Tracking Your Child’s Speech and Language Development

Hearing and SpeechParents often seek information to determine if their child’s speech and language skills are normal. Being informed helps a parent decide when it may be appropriate to reach out to a professional for guidance as to when help is needed.

Speech and language skills will not develop normally in a child with significant hearing loss. Therefore, determining the presence of normal hearing is the first step. Following this determination, there are milestones which track a child’s hearing and speech development and are excellent markers for parents who wish to monitor their child’s skills.

Many states, including Alabama, require a newborn hearing screening before the baby is discharged from the hospital.  A baby who doesn’t pass a hearing screening in the hospital doesn’t necessarily have a hearing loss; however, if a baby fails two hearing screenings, follow-up diagnostic testing should be done within the first 3 months of life. If the retest confirms a hearing loss, it is recommended that a treatment plan be in place by the time the child is 6 months old.

“The earlier a permanent hearing loss is identified, the sooner an infant can receive the intervention and treatment needed to develop speech and language at an age appropriate level,” said Jill Smith, Director of the Hearing and Speech Department at Children’s of Alabama.

Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
While some children are born with a hearing loss, at least one type of acquired loss is preventable.  Loud volumes on portable music players, cell phones, televisions and radios can be blamed for noise-induced hearing loss. The American Speech, Language and Hearing Association reports that noise-induced hearing loss affects nearly 5.2 million of all children between the ages of 6-19.

“If the sound is bleeding through the headphones, it’s too loud,” Smith said. “If the volume is hurting your ears, it’s hurting theirs.”

To prevent noise-induced hearing loss, keep the volume at a normal conversational volume when you listen to music or watch TV. Limit the use of headphones to 60 minutes at a 60 percent volume per day. Use hearing protection when you attend concerts or sporting events or other places where loud noise may be present.

Speech and Language Development
Parents generally begin to attempt to determine if their child is developing normal speech and language skills between the ages of 18- 24 months.  The message of a recent campaign, Communication Begins at Birth, is one that is often heralded by the speech-language pathologists at Children’s of Alabama. The focus of this information is to help parents understand that the foundation for speech and language begins at birth.

Parental interaction with a child is of extreme importance.  As parents and caregivers talk to a child through daily activities of feeding, dressing, and bathing they are laying the foundation for language skills.  According to Suzanne Blocker, Speech Supervisor at COA, “some of the first warning signs for possible speech problems later on are difficulties with feeding.  The same muscles used to talk are the ones we use for chewing and swallowing.  If a baby has difficulty early on with sucking and feeding, it is possible that there may eventually be a speech and/or language delay as well.”  Other early indicators of normal development are appropriate eye contact and interaction as well as responsiveness to the environment.

Every child develops language at his or her own pace, but there are some general guidelines to help  monitor your child’s progress.

  • At one year old, your child should be using simple words such as “mama” or “dada.” Your child should recognize his or her own name, wave goodbye, make animal sounds and understand simple instructions, such as “no.”
  • At one and a half years old, your child is probably using 20 to 50 different words, including names of family members. He or she should be able to follow simple commands and can use words to indicate wants or needs, such as “more.” Your child can probably also understand simple questions, such as “Where is your nose?”
  • At two years old, your child’s vocabulary could be up to 300 words. He or she may also be able to combine words to form short two to three word sentences (“Me do it.”) and name common pictures in a book.
  • At two and a half years old, your child may begin to ask questions and talk when playing alone. He or she may be able to tell short stories.
  • At three years old, your child may be using short sentences to announce what he or she is doing. Your child’s vocabulary has grown to about 1,000 words. He or she can correctly answer yes-or-no questions and can begin to obey prepositional phrases, such as “Put the book on the table.”

A more detailed list of language development milestones and parent tips are available at

If you have concerns at any stage in your child’s speech or hearing, talk to your pediatrician. “A parent’s intuitive feelings about a possible problem should not be ignored,” Blocker said.  To reach the team of speech pathologists or audiologists at Children’s of Alabama, visit


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