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Speech delays: How to spot delays like a doctor

Updated: April 8, 2024 · 3 Minute Read

Melanie Hsu, Ph.D.

Reviewed by:

Melanie Hsu, Ph.D.


  • Signs children might have a speech or language delay include having trouble making certain sounds, putting two words together, or finding it difficult to understand others.
  • If your child is under the age of three, contact your state’s free early intervention program to see if you qualify for their services.
  • Avoid comparing your child's development with others. Every child is unique and learns differently. And remember your child has many other strengths and gifts to explore.

It might be obvious when a child struggles with speaking — they are very quiet, say only a few words, or don’t speak at all. Other signs are not as obvious. Here are the signs of a speech or language delay.

  • Doesn’t smile or play with others (Birth–3 months)
  • Doesn’t pay attention to sounds (Birth–12 months)
  • No babbling (4–7 months)
  • Doesn’t understand what others say (7 months–2 years)
  • Makes only a few sounds (7–12 months)
  • No gestures, like waving or pointing (7–12 months)
  • Doesn’t respond when you call their name (7–12 months)
  • Says only a few words (12–18 months)
  • Cannot follow simple directions (1–2 years)
  • Cannot say p, b, m, h, and w sounds (1–2 years)
  • Cannot put two words together (1½–2 years)
  • Says fewer than 50 words (2 years)
  • Difficulty with reading and writing which includes not liking to draw or look at books and pausing a lot (2½–3 years)
  • Stutters by repeating the first sounds of words, like “b-b-b-blue” for “blue” or stretching sounds out, like “ffffffall” for “fall” (2½–3 years)
  • Doesn’t use spontaneous language. like mostly repeating things from TV or other people (2½–3 years)

Take a deep breath. Nothing is wrong with your child. They just need some support developing their skills.


Talk to your doctor. Discuss your concerns with your pediatrician and request a referral for a speech and language evaluation. It is better to get your child evaluated rather than use the “wait and see” approach. There is a critical period in the brain for language development and so, it’s really important to teach language and communication skills as early as possible, especially if there are any delays in that area.


Find an affordable, quality speech therapy team. If your child is under the age of three years old, you can call your state’s free early intervention program to see if you qualify for their services (no doctor referral is required for early intervention services). Many public schools also offer free speech therapy for special needs children based on certain terms. You can contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network providers or find the best in-network speech therapists near you at Beaming Health.


Avoid comparing. Every child is unique and learns differently. Don’t forget your child has many other strengths and gifts to explore as well.


Join a community. You’re not alone. Many children need support improving their speech and language skills! You can find communities online to share your story, chat with experts, and meet families like yours.


Know that it takes time. Speech therapy can last a few months to a few years, depending on your child’s needs. The good news: during that time they will learn effective ways to communicate which will help them grow into more independent and confident individuals.

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