My Toddler Understands Me But Doesn’t Talk: What’s Next?

If your toddler is understanding more than they can express, it’s important to know that this is normal. At two years old, most children can understand around 500 words and be able to follow simple instructions. However, they typically only use around 50-100 words of their own in speech. This means that a child may understand more than they can say. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a delay or disorder.

It’s important to remember that language development progresses at its own pace for each individual child, and some children take longer to begin talking than others.

This article will provide insight on...

  • the typical language development milestones for toddlers,
  • signs of potential delays in language development, and
  • when to seek professional help.
Let’s dive in.
My Toddler Understands Me But Doesn’t Talk What's Next

Language Development in Toddlers

Language development in toddlers is important for communication, social interaction, and problem-solving. During this stage, children learn how to express their thoughts and feelings and how to understand others. There are several factors that influence the level of progress made by each child, including genetics, physical development such as hearing ability, cognitive maturity, and exposure to different languages and cultures.

Understanding Receptive and Expressive Language

Receptive and expressive language skills are two essential aspects of language development in toddlers.

    • Receptive language skills refer to the ability to understand spoken language.
      Toddlers will usually be able follow basic instructions such as pointing or naming objects; they may also have some understanding of simple sentences. As they get older, they will start to comprehend more complex information and respond appropriately.
    • Expressive language skills involve being able to produce words and put together sentences.
      This can include anywhere from baby babble at first, all the way up to complete sentence structure by the time they are around three years old. Repetition of words heard is often seen during this stage, which is normal and part of the learning process for toddlers.

It is important for parents to provide their toddlers with plenty of opportunities to practice both receptive and expressive language skills in order for them to continue developing their communication abilities.

Typical Developmental Milestones for Language Acquisition in Toddlers

Toddlers typically reach certain developmental milestones as they learn to communicate.

By 18 months of age, toddlers may begin to understand short sentences and be able to follow simple directions such as pointing or naming objects. They will start out with baby babble and go on to forming words like “mama”, “dada”, “hi”, “more”, “ball”, “dog”, or “milk”.
By 2 years old, they should have a good understanding of conversations taking place around them. They should also be able to follow two-step requests like “get the toy and put it away.” They typically have a vocabulary of around 50 words or more, including names for familiar objects and activities, as well as pronouns like “mine” and “yours”. They will also be able to make animal sounds such as “moo”, “baa”, or “oink” when prompted and start putting together two-word phrases such as “want food” or “more juice”.
By 3 years old, toddlers should be able to form more complex sentences using verbs and adjectives. Their language skills will continue to develop with an increased understanding of spatial concepts such as “on” or “in”, a larger vocabulary of up to 1,000 words, and the ability to describe people and places using adjectives like “happy” or “sad”.

Here are some signs that could indicate potential delays or disorders in language development at around 3 years old:

    • If your toddler cannot put together two-word phrases or is unable to answer simple questions such as “what color is the ball?”
    • If your child isn’t able to describe people and places using adjectives such as “happy” or “sad”
    • If your child has difficulty following directions or comprehending what you say

In the next section, we will discuss in more detail the symptoms of speech delays.

Understanding Speech Delays

Understanding Speech Delays

Signs of speech disorder may include difficulty making certain sounds, saying words incorrectly, speaking too softly or quickly, having trouble putting words together into sentences, and difficulty understanding what other people are saying.

Speech delays and disorders can affect children of any age, including toddlers. While most toddlers have some difficulty with language development, there are certain signs that may indicate a more serious speech delay or disorder.

Common types of speech delays and disorders include:

    • Articulation disorders, which involve difficulty producing proper sounds;
    • Receptive language disorder, in which a child has difficulty understanding language;
    • Expressive language disorder, where a child has limited vocabulary or trouble remembering words and saying complex sentences;
    • Apraxia of speech, in which the brain has difficulty sending messages to the mouth for proper sound production; and
    • Stuttering, one of the most common types of speech delays, that involves disruptions in the normal flow of speech.

Parents should be aware of these different types of speech delays and disorders so they can recognize when their toddler might need further evaluation by a professional.

If your child is exhibiting developmental delays or symptoms that cause you to worry, it’s important to speak with their pediatrician and seek out a language evaluation from a qualified Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP).

When to Seek Professional Help from an SLP

When to Seek Professional Help from an SLP

Early intervention is key. If you notice any type of unusual verbalizations or struggles with communication in your toddler, seek out professional help from a speech therapist.

Here are a few more examples of signs that tell you that further language evaluation is needed:

    1. Delayed language milestones: If they have not met the expected communication milestones for their age group;
    2. Difficulty producing sounds: If they are having difficulty with certain speech sounds, such as those beginning with “sh” or “th”;
    3. Delays in understanding: If they struggle to understand what is being said to them or does not respond appropriately to questions or instructions;
    4. Stuttering when speaking: If they stutter more than expected at their age.

A speech therapist will to assess their speech and language abilities and develop an individualized plan based on their needs.

What Does a Speech Therapist Do?

Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are professionals who specialize in assessing and treating communication, language, and swallowing disorders. Their primary goal is to help people of all ages develop effective communication strategies for their daily lives. Speech therapists use a variety of techniques which may include verbal or nonverbal strategies to help patients improve their abilities. Depending on the individual’s needs, an SLP might teach sign language, use visual supports, or recommend assistive technology such as adaptive devices.

SLPs can also assess areas such as speech and language development, cognitive functioning, speech fluency and articulation, social skills, and hearing levels. They may also provide counseling services to those struggling with emotional issues related to communication difficulties. The SLP will develop an individualized treatment plan that meets the patient’s needs and goals.

In addition to treating patients directly, many SLPs provide consultations to families and caregivers in order to educate them on how best to support their loved ones with communication difficulties. This support may include providing education about factors that affect a person’s ability to communicate effectively as well as helping family members understand how they can facilitate better communication in everyday life.

Role of an SLP in Supporting Language Development in Toddlers

For toddlers who are not yet talking, an SLP can be instrumental in helping parents and caregivers understand their toddler’s communication needs, providing resources to support language development, and making sure that the toddler’s communication skills are developing properly according to their age.

The SLP will assess the toddler’s current levels of verbal and nonverbal communication and then develop an individualized treatment plan designed to meet their specific needs. This may include using visual support, teaching sign language, using assistive technology such as adaptive devices, or providing counseling services for any emotional issues related to communication difficulties.

The SLP will also provide consultations to family members so that they can better understand their toddler’s needs and how they can help facilitate better communication in everyday life.

Questions Asked by the SLP During the Evaluation Process

During the evaluation process, the SLP will ask the toddler and the family members several questions to gain an understanding of the language development. They will want to know if there are any concerns about communication or if there have been any recent changes in the child’s speech or language skills.

The SLP may also ask about family history, as certain conditions and disorders such as autism spectrum disorder can be considered a factor. Questions about hearing loss, motor skills, and cognitive functioning may also be asked to better understand how these might impact communication and language development.

Other questions might include what words and phrases the toddler uses on a regular basis, if they use gestures and sign language to communicate, or if they respond verbally when spoken to directly. All of this information will help the SLP develop a plan for effectively supporting their language development.

Tests Used During the Evaluation Process

The SLP may use a variety of tests to evaluate the toddler’s language development and identify any potential issues. These tests could include an expressive and/or receptive language evaluation, which assesses the child’s ability to understand what is being said and convey their own ideas. A speech assessment may also be conducted to assess articulation, fluency, and voice production.

The SLP might also observe how they interact with family members or play with other children in order to gain an insight into their social interaction skills.

By taking into account all of this information, the SLP can develop a plan and suggest treatment options for effectively supporting the toddler’s communication development.

Treatment Options Available to Children With Speech Delays

Treatment Options Available to Children With Speech Delays

Treatment options for toddlers with delayed or disordered speech development vary according to a child’s individual needs. Treatment may involve one-on-one therapy with an SLP, educational and/or behavioral interventions, or other therapies such as occupational therapy.

In addition to traditional speech therapy, there are several alternative treatment approaches available for children with delayed or disordered speech development. These include augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, technology-assisted communication tools, sign language instruction, and social skills training programs.

Ultimately, it is important to develop an individualized treatment plan that takes into account the child’s needs and abilities in order to maximize their potential for successful communication development.

Family-Centered Approach to Treatment Planning

The SLP will typically use a family-centered approach to treatment planning and intervention strategies, which involves working closely with the child’s parents or caregivers to ensure that their individual needs are taken into account and that their goals for the child’s communication development are met.

The SLP will provide guidance and support to both the parents/caregivers and the toddler throughout treatment in order to maximize the potential for successful communication development over time.

If you are concerned about your toddler’s language development progression, you may schedule a consultation with one of our qualified Speech-Language Pathologists. With proper support and guidance from an experienced SLP, toddlers can make significant progress toward to improve their communication skills.

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Lauren Templeton - Apheleia Speech Therapy
Lauren Templeton

Owner & Speech-Language Pathologist

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