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Does my child have a Language Delay?

Written by Charmaine Kwok

Language and communication is a beautiful gift to building close bonds with your little one. While all children develop at their own unique pace, some may continue to have difficulties learning how to communicate.  As a result, some children may display behaviour challenges because they are frustrated at not being able to express their needs effectively.

Let's explore more about what language delay is, the signs and symptoms of language delay, before discussing how early diagnosis and intervention can help children achieve their developmental milestones.

What is Language Delay?

Children with language delay may struggle with understanding and/or using spoken language. These difficulties may range across the four basic modes of communication including speaking, listening, reading and writing. Their delay may involve a combination of hearing, speech, and cognitive impairments.

What should I look out for?

Here are some milestones to note if you should start to be concerned about language delay:

By 18 months:

  • Says less than 3 to 20 single words (e.g. papa, mama, car)

  • Does not respond to name most of the time 

  • Does not point to indicate wants, needs or interests

  • Does not follow simple 1-step instructions (e.g. “give mama”, "take ball")

By 2 - 3 years:

  • Does not name body parts/familiar items

  • Does not use 2 to 4-word phrases (e.g. “kick ball,” “I eat biscuit,” “mummy, push blue car”)

  • Does not answer simple 'WH' questions (e.g. “what… doing?” or “where is the cup?”)

  • Does not follow 2-step related instructions (e.g. “keep your shoes and wash your hands”)

By 4 - 5 years:

  • Speaks in shorter sentences of less than 5 to 8 words as compared to peers

  • Does not retell sequences of simple procedures (e.g. how to make a sandwich, going to toilet)

  • Does not tell simple stories 

  • Does not use a wide range of vocabulary related to common objects, actions, shapes, colours, animals, prepositions (e.g. under/ in front), and concepts (e.g. long/short)

  • Does not use pronouns (e.g. I, you, he, she)

  • Does not answer and ask ‘WH’ questions (i.e. who, what, where, when, why)

At all ages:

  • Stops using previously acquired language skills

Diagnosis and Early Treatment

As a parent, it’s hard not to worry when your child may not be developing at the same rate as their peers. Remember, your concerns are valid and you know your child best. It's never too early to get a speech and language evaluation - our speech therapists are able to assess and work collaboratively with you to support your child's development. 

To help you understand your child's milestones, you may wish to fill in this developmental checklist and our friendly Speech Therapist will get in touch with you! 

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National University Hospital. (n.d.). Speech and Language Difficulties (Children). National University Hospital. Retrieved January 6, 2024, from

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