Typical Communication Development 0 – 18 months

Typical Communication Development from Birth to 18 Months Old and Related Red Flags

The focus of this blog is an overview of typical communication development for young children from birth to 18 months, as well as behaviors that could be a red flag for a delay or a disorder at which point you would seek help from your pediatrician and/or a pediatric SLP.

Children’s communication skills are divided into areas of development that include how they gesture and imitate adults’ actions (i.e., non-verbal skills), what they hear, what they understand (i.e., receptive skills), what they say (i.e., expressive skills), the sounds they make (i.e., articulation), their ability to move their mouths and oral articulators, such as their tongue or jaw (i.e., oral-motor skills), respiration coordination, their voice and fluency skills, and their social-pragmatic skills. All of these skills develop and work together to allow the child to become an independent and successful communicator. If any of these skills are delayed and developing in a different in an atypical pattern, it can disrupt a child’s successful communication development.

In the first year during infancy before children can speak, they are observing and paying attention to everything around them. They attend to noises in the environment such as cars and birds, and begin to associate sounds with events, so that they learn if the dog is barking, someone is at the door. They begin to anticipate and imitate adults’ actions for fun such as by clapping, or for purposeful reasons such as by wiping the table to clean it. They may also begin eating solid foods and make more movements with their mouths as they experience new tastes and textures. They engage in vocal play or make sounds both in isolation and in combination to sound like babbling. The more they move their mouths during eating and drinking and vocal play, the more their oral muscles are strengthened for creating specific sounds needed for talking.

By the age of 1, if your child is not tuning into and understanding a variety of environmental noises, or not making a varied sounds for babbling or vocal play, or not beginning to anticipate and imitate your simple actions, you can check with your pediatrician or a pediatric SLP to see what you can do to build these skills and rule out a disorder, such as a hearing loss.

During the time from 12 months to 18 months,  from 1 to 2, children are exploring differently second to learning to walk, climb, and run. They will often begin to experience language as power, both in what they understand, and how they express their thoughts, ideas, wants and needs. Although the first word often appears around the age of 1, it can range from as early as 8 or 9 months to as late as 13 or 14 months and still be considered typical. On average, children are generally are using 50 true words by 18 months and are combining these words into two-word phrases (e.g., more milk; bye-bye daddy; car go).

The amount a child uses language can be affected by gender, with girls typically being more talkative with bigger vocabularies than boys. It can also be affected by siblings, birth order, bilingual or multilingual homes, life experiences, and cultural expectations, just to name a few influences. More importantly is that the child should understand much more than the child is saying. This is noted in the child’s ability to associate words with objects, follow simple one- and two-step directions, and answer simple concrete questions.

If a one year old is not showing consistent signs of understanding by doing what is asked, looking at objects when they’re named, answering simple questions about their environment, imitating other kids’ and adults’ actions, then it is may be time to seek professional assistance to determine if a speech and language screening or evaluation is needed. It is important that parents and families know that sometimes getting guidance on how to build communication skills can greatly assist a child’s communication development.

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