2years old and not talking


2 years old and not talking much?

An adult assesses a childCommon questions that I receive from many parents of two year old children include:

  • How many words should my 2 year old be saying?
  • When should they start putting words together to make sentences?
  • Is it normal for my child to be difficult to understand?
  • Why aren’t they talking as much as their sibling/friend was at that age?
  • Is it too soon to start therapy?

Firstly, it is important to recognise that ‘typical’ development in early childhood can vary considerably among children. A child who has high average language skills for their age can look quite different to a child who has low average skills. Toddlers who are developing at a slower rate but are still ‘within the expected range’ for their age, will not usually require regular intervention from a Speech Pathologist. Often parents will be provided with simple tips and strategies to maximise their child’s language development in the home environment.

However, for children who do have delayed communication development, early intervention is the best way to help them to catch up to their peers. If your child is late to talk, it is therefore important to first identify whether or not they are developing speech and language skills ‘typically’ for their age.

What’s ‘typical’ for a 2 year old?

By the age of 2 years old, a vocabulary of at least 50 words is expected. During the following 6 months, vocabulary development will seemingly explode as your child adds new words to their vocabulary at an impressive rate. By 2 ½ years, a child’s vocabulary may consist of up to 300 words. From 2 years of age, they are also learning how to put words together to make short two-word sentences such as ‘my ball’, ‘big bite’, ‘more juice’ etc.

Children will be learning how to use a variety of different types of words (such as naming words, action words, describing words etc). They will also be learning to use many different combinations of words as they become more flexible and spontaneous with their two-word combinations. For example, a child will begin to use commonly heard phrases such as ‘uh oh!’, ‘more please’ first. As they become more skilled with combining two words together, they will start to combine words spontaneously to talk about many different experiences, such as pointing to their pet and saying ‘doggy wet!’

Many parents report concerns that their child has ‘no clear words yet’. However, it is important to understand that a 2 year old’s speech is still developing. The muscles of their face and mouth are not yet developed enough to achieve the precise, rapid and co-ordinated movement that is required for clear speech. As a result, many 2 year old’s will have a number of words that they can use purposefully, but cannot say clearly.

For example, your child may say ‘ah, mummy ah!’ when they point to something that is out of reach, or when they raise their arms for you to pick them up. This child knows and is attempting to use the word ‘up’. However, because they are still developing the ability to say final sounds in words they will be unable use a ‘p’ sound at the end.

Before children begin to use words, they will communicate using non-verbal communication. It is important to ‘tune in’ to your child’s communication – how do they use sounds, facial expressions, body language and gesture to send you a message? A child who can take your hand, lead you to the cupboard and point to an object high on the shelf is developing the ability to communicate their wants and needs. A child who sits on the floor under the shelf and cries in frustration may still be learning about how to use communication to send a clear message.

How do I know if my child is developing ‘typically’?

If you have concerns about your 2 year old’s language development, start by making a list of the words (or approximations of words) that you notice your child using purposefully and consistently over 4 weeks. By the end of the month, you will have a clearer understanding of the number and types of words that your child knows, as well as a measure of how quickly they are adding new words to their vocabulary.

If your child is close to 2 years of age, is using less than 50 words, and is not yet putting two word combinations together, I recommend that you seek further advice from a Speech Pathologist. The Speech Pathologist will also explore other areas in their assessment including: receptive language (your child’s understanding of what you say), speech and motor development, cognition and play skills, and non-verbal communication.

How can Speech Pathology help?

A child plays with a dollSpeech Pathology intervention for young children is usually targeted at teaching parents and carers new strategies and skills to use in their day to day interactions with their child. As the constant people in children’s lives, parents can contribute to their child’s development in a meaningful and powerful way. Learn and Grow Speech Pathologists are trained in a range of ‘Hanen’ programs and draw much of their inspiration from the Hanen approach.

More about Hanen…


Brooke Miller – Speech Pathologist and Business Director

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