Is Your Child on Track with Expressive Language Skills?

image credit: Sue B

My child is very quiet. My child is 6 months old and not really making a lot of sounds. I know he can hear me because he responds to his name and smiles when I talk to him, but really he’s not making a lot of noises! My child is hardly talking and she is really showing frustration while trying to make her needs known. I’m concerned!

Have these thoughts crossed your mind? Are you concerned about your child’s speech production, or lack thereof? Your child may be delayed in expressive language skills.

Expressive language is verbalizations and/or gestures/signs which are combined to form meaningful messages. Children develop at different ages. Below is a general guideline of expressive language skills and the ages at which they develop.

0-3 Months: Your child is still developing the oral structures and is just beginning to use his/her vocal muscles.

  • Most communication at this point is in the form of crying (to signify hunger, discomfort) or other non-cry sounds such as burping, sneezing, and coughing.

4-6 Months:

  • Your child may begin to use laughter, vocal play (squealing, growling, lip smacking, etc) and early babbling (sound play with vowels and consonants, for example: “ba” or “k”) to communicate.

6-12 Months:

  • Babbling generally starts at this age. Babbling consists of repetitive sequences of syllables. You will notice that infants begin babbling with the same consonants (bababa) and then use different consonants (bawada) as they develop their muscles and become aware of the sound differences.
  • Children start to play social games (e.g., peek a boo, patty cake)

12-18 Months:

  • Infants begin to use jargon (conversational intonation on longer babbling strings)
  • First words begin to emerge along with early imitation of one or two words
  • Early words/gestures are used for labeling, repeating, requesting, commenting, greeting, protesting and answering
  • Children start pointing to indicate their wants and needs
  • Your child may initiate a game or social routine (e.g., peek a boo)

18-24 Months:

  • Toddlers will start imitating environmental sounds (car, train, animals)
  • Greetings with “hi” and “bye-bye” is appropriate
  • 2 word phrases start to emerge and 10-50 words is appropriate (a 24 month old may have up to 150 words that he/she uses)
  • Early pronouns start to develop (me, my, mine, you)
  • Toddlers will be able to name familiar objects
  • Word shapes will vary (consonant-vowel “me”, consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel “papa”, vowel-consonant “up”

24-36 Months: You may notice a significant increase in your toddler’s vocabulary during this age.

  • A 200-500 word vocabulary is appropriate
  • 3-4 word phrases develop
  • Toddlers should be able to name pictures in a book
  • Toddlers will begin to use plurals and possessives
  • Action words develop and they are using –ing form of verbs (e.g., running, jumping)
  • Pointing, grunting and gesturing will decrease as the child’s verbal output increases
  • Descriptive words develop (e.g., hot, big)
  • Asks questions (“What’s this?, “Where’s my…?”)
  • A variety of consonant-vowel syllable sequences is appropriate (consonant-vowel-consonant “dog”, two syllable words “puppy, hippo”, three syllable words “banana”)

Here are a few tips on how to improve your child’s expressive language skills:

  1. Expand on what your child says. If your child labels something “cookie,” you expand by saying “I want cookie.”
  2. Questioning. Ask questions while looking at books, pictures and during real life experiences to encourage spontaneous language and thought.
  3. Commenting/Describing. Talk about daily activities as they are happening. Label objects and pictures as your child is attending to them or requesting them. Always try to use the correct pronunciation of the word as opposed to baby talk.
  4. Delayed Responses. Allow your child to use his/her language to request/comment/protest. Do not anticipate his/her every need before they have a chance to communicate it to you.

If you are concerned and would like to have your child’s expressive language evaluated, talk to your pediatrician and ask if a referral to a speech-language pathologist is appropriate at this time.

—Kristina Frimmel, M.A., CCC-SLP, Supervisor, Pediatric Speech and Language Pathology Department, Center for Childhood Speech and Language Disorders

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