How to Recognize Toddler Speech Problems

By Meredyth Glass
Watching your mouth and imitating your sounds helps you toddler learn to talk.
Watching your mouth and imitating your sounds helps you toddler learn to talk.

Toddlers with severely delayed speech have a high risk of reading problems later in school. Children whose speech and language problems continue into elementary school often struggle with attention and social skills, according to Dr. Maura McLaughlin, writing for American Family Physician. Despite this, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found that speech development was too varied to recommend routine screening. As a result, parents of toddlers must learn to recognize speech problems and decide when it's time to get help.

Listen to the sounds your toddler makes. At this stage of development, perfect pronunciation isn't expected but you should hear a wide variety of sounds as your child plays with vocalizations. Sounds like /b/ and /p/ are relatively easy and generally come in earlier than harder sounds like /s/ and /r/. Your toddler's speech should largely be understood by his family and caregivers by about 3 years of age.

List your toddler's words and phrases. By age 2, your toddler should have a vocabulary of about 50 words and should be starting to combine them into two-word phrases, such as "more car" or "no nap," according to KidsHealth. Around age 3, she should have a word for most things that are important to her and she should be using simple phrases and sentences.

Watch your toddler communicate. She should be attempting to talk to you and she should be responding to your speech. Even if you can't yet understand much of what she's saying, your toddler should be consistently trying to talk. She should also react to things you say and follow simple directions. Nonverbal communication counts too. Look for gestures such as waving and pointing.

Play with her. Even if your toddler is very shy, language should be an integral part of her play. You may not understand what she is saying, but listen to hear if she incorporates vocalizations into her games. This practice allows her to develop more sounds and to perfect them into more readily understandable speech. If she isn't vocalizing, encourage her by singing or reading together and playing silly imitative sound games.

Check her developmental milestones. Although language acquisition is highly variable, KidsHealth suggests consulting a professional if your child is older than 2 and not producing spontaneous speech, not using speech except to get her immediate needs met, has an very unusual vocal quality or can be understood less than half the time. By age 3, familiar adults should understand her at least three-quarters of the time and by 4, most people, even strangers, should understand most of what she says.

About the Author

Meredyth Glass has been writing for educational institutions since 1995. She contributes to eHow in the areas of parenting, child development, language and social skill development and the importance of play. She holds a Master of Science in speech, language pathology from California State University, Northridge and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from California State University, Northridge.