Speech and Language Development: Signs of Possible Problems

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If your child doesn't reach speech and language milestones as expected, it might not mean that something is wrong. Each child grows and gains skills at their own pace. But not reaching milestones can be a sign of a problem (delay) with speech and language development. Your child should be checked by a doctor.

Language delays include problems understanding what is heard or read (receptive language delays) or problems putting words together to form meaning (expressive language delays). Some children have both speech and language delays.

Signs of a speech or language delay may include:

  • No babbling by 9 months.
  • No first words by 15 months.
  • No consistent words by 18 months.
  • No word combinations by 24 months.
  • Slowed or stagnant speech development.
  • Problems understanding your child's speech at 24 months of age, or strangers having problems understanding your child's speech by 36 months of age.
  • Not showing an interest in communicating.

Talk to your doctor anytime you or another caregiver has concerns about your child's speech and language development. Also talk to your doctor if you think there may be another problem that affects your child's speech or understanding of language. These problems may include:

  • Excessive drooling.
  • Problems sucking, chewing, or swallowing.
  • Problems with control and coordination of lips, tongue, and jaw.
  • Stuttering that causes a child embarrassment, frustration, or problems with peers.
  • Poor memory skills by the time your child reaches kindergarten age (5 to 6 years). Your child may have trouble learning colors, numbers, shapes, or the alphabet.
  • Not responding when spoken to, or not reacting to loud noises.
  • A sudden loss of speech and language skills. Loss of abilities at any age should be checked right away.
  • Not speaking clearly or well by age 3.

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Current as of: October 24, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.