Red Flags for Speech and Language Development

Layout 1Written by Donna Attard Inspire Speech and Language Pathologist, and first published in A&H Magazine

Long before a child starts to utter his or her first words, the course of speech and language development would have already commenced. From birth, a child listens to speech sounds and learns the communication skills on which future language development will depend.

Every child develops differently and at different rates. However, there are some very important skills that need to be developed for the child to grow and thrive as he/she continues to develop. The timely attainment of communication, speech, and language milestones sets the foundation for a child’s academic and social success.

A child’s failure to reach speech and language milestones as expected, may be a “red flag” or warning and might indicate a speech and language development problem. But if a child does not reach developmental milestones on schedule, it does not necessarily mean that there is a problem. However, he or she should be evaluated by a health professional such as a speech and language pathologist or a psychologist.

Language delays include difficulties understanding what is being said (receptive language delays) or problems using words (expressive language delays). Speech delays include problems producing sounds correctly or coordinating sounds into words and/or phrases.

The following are considered as Red flags for speech and language development:

  • no vocalizations by 6 months
  • not showing an interest in communicating and avoiding eye contact with the speaker by 6 months of age
  • no consonants within babble by 9 months
  • no first words by 15 months
  • does not identify common objects by 18 months
  • not identifying body parts (6) by 24 months
  • no word combinations by approximately 24 months
  • vocabulary of less than 25 words by 24 months
  • problems understanding the child’s speech 50% of the time at 24 months of age; problems understanding your child’s speech 75% of the time at 36 months of age
  • unable to recall recent events after they occur by 3 – 4 years of age
  • unable to count to 3 by 3 – 4 years of age
  • unable to converse in sentences by 3-4 years of age

Other red flags include:

  • child’s inability to respond to sounds or directives due to decreased hearing abilities
  • child’s failure to respond when spoken to, but appears to hear well
  • stuttering that causes a child embarrassment, frustration or difficulty with peers; normal stuttering occurs between 2 – 5 years of age
  • a sudden loss of language skills at any age should also be addressed

Speech and language delays can be identified early on. As a result, your child would benefit from early intervention. Early intervention is the term used to describe services provided to infants and toddlers aged from birth to three years old. Early intervention is essential since it helps your child achieve developmental milestones further through the use of direct therapy techniques and an intervention plan that is tailored to the individual child and family.

If your child presents with one or more of the red flags mentioned above, seeking help from a health professional would be beneficial for your child’s language and even social and emotional development.