It can be so hard to know when to be concerned about an aspect of your child’s development – children all grow and develop at such different rates. My own three children all hit developmental milestones at completely different ages, keeping me constantly baffled and unsure of what to expect next. And I confess to occasionally agonising about whether these differences were ‘normal’ and whether I should be doing something about it.

While many of our worries turn out to be unfounded, sometimes there can be signs that a child is falling behind in their language development. When this is the case, it is much better to act quickly than to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. Birth to five years of age is the most important and critical period for communication development, with your child’s brain growing rapidly and the brain’s plasticity making it incredibly receptive to the information and experiences it receives. Early intervention is therefore hugely important in maximising the potential gains from this period of development in a child’s life. Developing strong communication skills are vital for children to learn and achieve interpersonal and academic success.

So what is ‘normal’ in language development and when should we take action? Lucky for us,  The Hanen Centre, a not-for-profit charity that specialises in researching and developing carer-centred early communication interventions, has given us the following list of red flags to help identify when it might be time to seek some extra assistance, and discuss your child’s development with a speech pathologist.

By 12 months
# doesn't babble with changes in tone - e.g. dadadadadadadadada
# doesn't use gestures like waving "bye bye" or shaking head for "no"
# doesn't respond to his/her name

# doesn't communicate in some way when s/he needs help with something

By 15 months
# doesn't understand and respond to words like "no" and "up"
# says no words
# doesn't point to objects or pictures when asked “Where’s the...?
# doesn’t point to things of interest as if to say “Look at that!”  and then look right at you

By 18 months
# doesn’t understand simple commands like "Don't touch"
# isn’t using at least 20 single words like "Mummy" or "up"
# doesn’t respond with a word or gesture to a question such as “What’s that?” or “Where’s your shoe?”

# can’t point to two or three major body parts such as head, nose, eyes, feet

By 24 months
# says fewer than 100 words
# isn’t consistently joining two words together like "Daddy go" or “ shoes on”
# doesn't imitate actions or words
# doesn't pretend with toys, such as feeding doll or making toy man drive toy car

By 30 months
# says fewer than 300 words
# isn’t using action words like “run”, “eat”, “fall”
# isn’t using some adult grammar, such as “two babies" and "doggie sleeping"

3-4 years
# doesn’t ask questions by 3 years
# isn’t using sentences (e.g., "I don't want that" or "My truck is broken")  by three years
# isn’t able to tell a simple story by four or five year

Every child is different, and this list is not a definitive diagnosis of a language delay. However it is an excellent screening guide to help parents recognise if their child may need some additional support in developing their language skills. If you have identified one or more of these red flags in your child’s communication development, or if you just wish to discuss any concerns you have, contact Chatterbots for a confidential and obligation free conversation. There may not be a need to take action, but you will feel reassured by speaking with a professional.