Toddlers Who Aren't Forming Words

By Sharon Perkins
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Parents often worry about their toddler's speech -- does he talk too loudly, is he too hard to understand or is he behind other kids his age? Toddlers -- children between the ages of 1 and 3 -- should be talking, but the number of words a toddler says and at what age can vary considerably and still fall within the normal range. If your toddler isn't forming any words at all, talk to his pediatrician about his speech.

First Words

By their first birthday, most toddlers use one or two words correctly and in context, including -- to most parent's delight -- "mama" and "dada." At this age, whether your toddler is forming words isn't as important as whether or not he has started babbling and jargoning. "Jargoning" is speech that has the inflections of speech without actual words. Babbling and jargoning indicate that your child can hear what you say and understands that sounds are part of communication.

Not Talking by Two

When your toddler doesn't talk by age 1, there's no reason for concern. When your 2-year-old doesn't talk at all, or if he's very difficult to understand or has garbled speech, it's time to seek a speech evaluation. The average 2-year-old says 50 words and has started to put two-word sentences together, such as "Want juice," according to By age 3, even strangers should be able to understand much of what your child says.

Possible Causes

Several factors can contribute to toddler's not forming words. Your toddler might have physical issues such as poor hearing, chronic ear infections or low motor tone, which can interfere with speech. Speech problems can be an indication of a larger disorder. A toddler with developmental delays or disorders such as autism often start to speak later than normal. An autistic toddler might start talking at a normal age, then "lose" the ability to speak.

What to Do

Speech therapists can not only help your child to start using words, but can also help diagnose the possible causes for his lack of speech. With speech disorders, it's important to know whether the problem is with expressive language, which means what your toddler can say, or receptive language, or what he understands. A speech therapist will tailor her approach to your toddler's particular issues. You can help facilitate language development by speaking slowly and clearly, looking directly at your toddler's face. Encourage him to communicate by not anticipating his needs and meeting them immediately; wait for him to ask for something -- or at least to point it -- before responding, speech-language pathologist Karin Howard suggests.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.