When Your Toddler is Behind on Language Development


The scheduling coordinator verified the reason for the appointment but I still felt uneasy scheduling a speech evaluation for my 2-year-old. What started out as a general well-child visit with a new doctor in a new town ended in leaving the office with a referral for a speech evaluation. The new family doctor had reminded us that boys’ language development is slower than their girl counterparts but is still worth looking into. I still wonder why an otherwise thriving, extremely bright child is causing concern for being behind on his language skills.

The first language development requirement was if Humnoy knew 50 words. Gym Hottie and I stared at each other with a “um, I don’t know” look because we don’t keep count nor did we think he needed to know a certain amount of words. Finally, I concluded that he does and moved on until the doctor wondered how his sentences were. “What sentences,” I thought because this child either screams or I am in tune with his wants and needs that he uses his single-word communication and I understand. It turns out that children his age are supposed to be at least using two-word sentences. He knows a couple like “my bike” or our household favorite, “my Dad(dy).” Other than that, Humnoy communicates with points and single words but rarely are they combined.

Once home, I rushed through putting a list of words. I hastily got up to number 38 and then I hit a block. I had to think really hard and look around our home to trigger scenarios with Humnoy and my photographic memory for more words. (Just want to make 50!) I added a few more then the rest of the day, GH and I would quickly add another word we seemed to overlook. The next few days had me in a frenzy trying to encourage his communication other than than grunts and pointing. It takes a few tries but he will actually use his words after my asking to reinforce his communication. For example, he will ask for “milk” when breastfeeding but usually with pointing and an ‘uh-huhm.’ I then ask, “What do you want from mommy, baby?” and would only let him nurse once he says “nome-nome,” the Laotian term for milk/breasts. I am also encouraging him to use words he knows well to make a ‘sentence.’ When he goes potty without us asking, I give him a single piece of fruit snack. He knows the words “snack” and “please” so I encourage those in succession with each other when I present the item.

GH and I have discussed this and for the most part, we are not worried. Humnoy is an extremely bright and loyal child, which is why we were very surprised we needed a medical referral for speech evaluation. If we hadn’t seen a doctor, we would have never questioned his development. He plays well with others, is very curious, and we understand him. Others may not, which may be a problem we do foresee. It was tough and I mean for me. As a mom, you don’t enjoy hearing that there’s “something wrong” with your child. It just turns out that’s where I’m wrong; there’s nothing wrong with him and I need to change my mindset to where I encourage and promote his skills and interests rather than dwell on missing the check boxes for a generic list of a child’s development. Right now, all I can do is what I know and what he knows, which despite one doctor’s observation, is a lot and we are very proud of him.

Have you had any surprises in your child(ren)’s development?

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12 thoughts on “When Your Toddler is Behind on Language Development

  1. Do you think that AP contributes to reduced verbalization? At this point, my 18-mo-old isn’t “behind” but does say less than other kids I know and I often wonder if it’s because I’m so in tune with his needs, that he’s not forced to learn words to get his needs met.

    • This can make a lot of sense– As being AP, it falls directly in meeting the child’s needs before any direct initiation. Such a great observation! Maybe, maybe not but I also think that his motor skills and physical development is so advanced that perhaps his language skills come after the fact since his body focused on other strengths? Dunno, thinking and soaking in ideas out loud.

  2. Don’t worry Mama. When my older son went in for his two year well check, the doctor was concerned about his speech. She gave us a referral, and seriously, days later, he had a language explosion. Z has had a bit of a delay, but I am pretty sure that that’s because he has two older siblings who talk for him and get him every single thing he needs, so he doesn’t feel the need to talk much.

  3. My daughter Grace had some language development problems. She would hum her words but refused to actually speak them. It was weird. We ended up having a speech therapist come to our home to work with her. She went from never really speaking to using whole sentences! I’m glad you aren’t worried and hope you aren’t beating yourself up. All kids are unique. They develop at their own pace πŸ™‚

  4. My son is throwing my through a loop. His sisters were curve breakers and he REALLY isn’t. I’m learning patients with this guy.

  5. I think he’s doing just fine! I went into a mini panic when at a baby yoga class, all of the kids, even younger than my daughter, could clap, but EA couldn’t and I felt like I was being looked at like the bad mom who wasn’t developing her clapping skills quickly enough. It resulted in HH thinking I was nuts and spending the next 24 hours walking around the house clapping like an idiot at everything before realizing that there are tons of things she CAN do that those kids can’t. All children develop differently!

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