Many parents have clear recollections of the day their child first uttered the words, “Mama” or “Dada.” Once those two words come out, a string of words typically follows: “Doggie,” “Up,” “No,” “Yankees” (Unless of course you’re a Red Sox household), and so many more…

But some children don’t begin speaking as quickly as others. And this can cause parents a lot of anxiety. Perhaps their first and second children began talking around 18 months, but child number three has yet to utter a word and is 22 months old.

Child development has a lot of gray areas. Each child is unique and will develop at their own pace. While we may have “typical” markers for development, there is no one “normal.”

A Growing Trend

If your child seems to be a late talker, don’t worry, you’re not alone. According to Marilyn Agin, MD, a developmental pediatrician in New York City and co-author of The Late Talker: What to Do If Your Child Isn’t Talking Yet, the number of late-talking cases seems to be on the rise. Interestingly, this growing number correlates to the growing number of chronic ear infections seen in babies and toddlers.

Ear infections can impair hearing and, in turn, contribute to speech delays. With so many households requiring both parents to work, more and more young children are spending time in child-care settings, where they are exposed to illnesses of playmates that often lead to ear infections.

The “Typical” Language Development Milestones

Your child may be labeled a late talker if they are speaking less than 10 words by the age of 20 months or fewer than 50 words by the age of 30 months.

To determine if your child is a later talker, here are speech milestones set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

 Children should be saying single words at the age of 12 months. They should also be able to understand simple requests (Ex: Finish your food).
 By the age of 24 months, a toddler should be able to speak in two- to three-word sentences.
 By the end of the third year, children should be able to follow instructions of two or three steps as well as recognize common objects. He or she should be able to speak clearly enough that they are understood by non-family members.
 By the end of year four, children should be able to ask abstract (“why”) questions and have mastered the basic rules of grammar.
 And by age five, children should be able to retell a story in their own words and construct sentences of at least five words.

It’s important to encourage speech in your child by simply talking with them and talking with them simply.

If you’re concerned that your child is a late talker, see your pediatrician to check for an ear infection. You may also want to have your child see a speech-language pathologist who can administer tests and analyze your child’s speaking abilities.

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