There is such a wide range of “normal” speech when children are young, so comparing your child with their peers in the playground or at your local playgroup isn’t always that helpful. Read on for some things to listen for when deciding if your child’s speech is developing as it should be.
By 18 months old, children should be using single words to communicate basic needs. The way they say their words may not yet be entirely correct but they are able to use the same sequence of speech sounds for particular things in their world.
By 2 years of age they should be using 2 word sentences and know at least 50 different words (50 words is a conservative measure). If your child is repeating sounds or words over and over, and appears to be having trouble getting their message out, it is advisable to rule out stuttering (also known as stammering) with a speech pathology assessment. It is vital a stuttering problem is treated as early as possible.
By 3 years old your child’s speech should be understood by family and friends most of the time. It’s at this point that parents often understand to their children, even if others don’t, because their ear has adapted to how their children speak. Consequently, it can be difficult for parents to identify issues.
Certainly, by the age of 4 years most people, even strangers, should understand your child nearly all of the time. Some parents find themselves always having to repeat what their child has just said so that others can understand. For the listener, it can be a bit like meeting someone who has a strong accent for the first time – At first you have to listen really hard to understand them, but over time your ear is able to adapt and you don’t think about it anymore. When this happens with children, chances are that they are making consistent speech errors – always making the same error on the same speech sound.
Sometimes, even parents have trouble understanding their child and this causes a lot of frustration for everyone at home. This may occur because the child is making inconsistent speech errors so that even their parents’ ears are unable to adapt to and translate their way of speaking – these children need to be seen as soon as possible by a speech pathologist to determine if intervention is required.
It is important to be aware that speech and language difficulties can be related to reading and writing challenges – if children aren’t showing any interest in words, word play or books by the age of 4, a referral to a speech pathologist is warranted to monitor their early literacy readiness.
I’ve included a poster from my speech pathology practice that summarises this information for you – feel free to print it for your classroom as a ready reference. You can download the PDF version here. Of course if you’re not in the Toowoomba area, please refer to your local area speech pathologists for help.