Baby Language Development: Delayed Speech
Communication is a two-way street. There is a usually a speaker and a listener. Listening precedes speech and baby's language development. Still, by 2½ years of age, most toddlers are using two-word utterances, can understand 500 to 900-plus words and have a vocabulary of 50 to 200 words.
If your child understands everything you are saying and follows simple directions like "Bring mommy your shoes," or "Let's sit at the table" or even more sophisticated directions like "Bring mommy your shoes from the front door," or "Let's sit at the table and bring your cup," and has no oral-motor difficulty (in other words, her tongue, lips and breath support are fine) your concerns about her speech and language development are well-founded.
It is important that you take a good look at your entire family dynamic and the patterns that have developed in your family—don't put blame on yourself or anyone else.
Look at the role of any older children in the household. Has one of them become the spokesperson for your younger child? Often times an older child can understand the "gibberish" of the younger sibling and tries to be helpful by translating. Your younger child will realize that she doesn't have to talk because her older sister will do the talking for her.
Does your child get whatever she wants by pointing to the object? I call this the "easy life syndrome." Do you have cupboard doors or refrigerator doors that your daughter can pull open without anyone's help so she doesn't need to ask for anything she wants to eat? Do you have all of the toys out in plain sight, at her easy reach, so she can play with her toys whenever she wants to play? If so:
- Move toys up to higher shelves. This will require your daughter to ask for a toy instead of just taking it off the shelf or off the floor by herself.
- Require your daughter to use a sound or a word (like "eat," or "o" for "open" ) in order to get a high cupboard opened or get what she wants to eat or drink.
- Put foods your daughter usually takes out of the refrigerator by herself on a higher shelf so she has to ask for it, using either words ("milk") or sounds ("O" for "orange juice").
- Pretend you don't understand her when she points, but rather encourage her to say a beginning sound or the word for whatever she wants, like "b" or "Barbie."
- Play with a toy that you can wind up. Encourage your daughter to say "go" or count "1-2-3" in order to make the toy to move.
- Hold a jar of bubbles in your hand, and blow some with the wand. Then wait for your daughter to say "m" or "more" to get you to blow more bubbles.
Another thing you can do to encourage speech and communication include teaching her signs for words like "more," "please" and "thank you." Signing provides a way to communicate nonverbally until the verbalizations become easier. Research shows that once words and speech begin to be used the signs will drop away. Signing also reduces frustration and tantrums.
Overall, you need to recognize your daughter's lack of communication as a delay that is interfering with everyday functioning. Seek the professional help of a certified speech and language pathologist, and check out early intervention programs in your neighborhood to determine your daughter's eligibility.
Most of all, take your time and have fun. Your daughter has learned to get what she wants without needing to exert much energy. Using words is more demanding on both of you, so know when to push and know when to let go.