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Is My Baby Speech Delayed?

Speech “Delays” and Way-Too-Early Intervention

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I am reading and memorizing your blogs, and I am very grateful for the information! You don’t imply that other children ARE for sure delayed, just because you have experienced this with your son. So thank you!

My boy is 11.5 months old. He doesn’t have words yet, and he started to babble late. At 9.5-10 months old, he said Gaga and Bababa for a week or two, and stopped with 4 weeks down time. He picked up again with Dadadada, Tata and Didididi at 11 months. He still can’t point, can’t clap his hands (although he is clapping mine), and he only occasionally waves to greet people. He doesn’t really imitate gestures, and he sometimes imitates sounds, like Dada, or Yay. If I say a word like Bingo, he would try to say it back, but he comes up with Bghghg, a raspberry, and scream, or Dadada.

I can’t trust my own judgement, because I usually assume there is a problem and then doctors very often tell me I am wrong. I evaluated my son at a private and well-respected speech therapy practice at 11 months of age, and he scored at 8 months for expressive language, and 16 months for understanding. The speech therapist seemed very confident he is not on the autism spectrum because he is very social. I was told that at this age, they are not overly worried about the delay yet, and we should wait-and-see.

My family thinks I am crazy, and I have no support for my worries and evaluations. Even my mother thinks my son is absolutely fine, and she is the prime caregiver of my son. But I am really upset, because he is supposed to do complicated babbling by now, combining various consonants, and he is nowhere near to even mama or dada with meaning.

So here are my questions: at what age do I start worrying about speech-delay? Can we say anything about late babbling, or babbling patterns and connect with speech issues? If the problem is only isolated speech delay, do most children pick up later, or do they need to go to special schools? In other words, what are the possible outcomes?

I would be very grateful for your response.

Gurl, please picture me very gently stroking your hair right now, and perhaps handing you a slightly-oversized glass of wine, because you need to CHILL. OUT. And I mean that in the most understanding and loving way possible.

I actually kept jumping back up to the beginning of your letter just to make sure I hadn’t misread your son’s age. He is not even a year old.  I’m honestly more worried about you than him, because you have worked yourself into quite a fearful state here. For both of your sakes, please step away from the milestone charts and developmental books and all of these “but he’s supposed to be” generalizations. Please stop trying to label him as anything right now and making yourself sick over ridiculously premature worst-case scenarios. (Special schools? What? No. Nononono.)

My son was first POSSIBLY, MAYBE, LET’S STILL WAIT AND SEE identified as slightly speech delayed around 18 months. The doctor was still not really concerned — language in young toddlers often comes in waves and “explosions,” and kids can seriously go from almost non-verbal to talking in sentences within a span of a couple days.

At 20 months, when things hadn’t really improved, we were referred to Early Intervention for an evaluation. By this point, we saw toe-walking and other sensory problems, so while I probably made the biggest deal over his speech, I’m guessing that actually wasn’t our doctor’s primary concern but simply the gentlest way to nudge us into getting him seen by someone. We started speech therapy just after his second birthday in September, and by June (or so — God, it’s all getting fuzzy), he was adequately “caught up,” speech wise.

All along the way, every therapist and evaluator was shocked (in a good way) that our pediatrician referred us as early as he did (again, at 20 months). Most doctors wait until after the second birthday, and lots of kids aren’t identified until preschool. And while earlier is better, I gotta admit that by kindergarten, the kids who had speech therapy were mostly indistinguishable from the kids who hadn’t. And no, not every speech-delayed kid has Other Issues.

Because I’m guessing my oldest’s story is the one that probably brings out a bunch of “YES, BUT…” worries for you, because yeah. He had a speech delay, and then went on to have Other Issues (SPD, PDD-NOS, ADHD, ASD, ACRONYM SOUP). Therefore: HOLY CRAP MY KID ISN’T BABBLING ENOUGH DOOM DOOM DOOM. Dude, I couldn’t tell you the exact babbling patterns of my “typical” kids, either, or what they were or were not doing at 11.5 months. My second son had words on the “early” side — maybe 12/13 months? (But horrible articulation, by the way, his vocabulary was too much for his mouth. I acted as his interpreter at lot.) My third was a very late talker, but caught up on his own by 28 months, after we enrolled him in a toddler program and around kids his age. Gestures and mimicking and sound acquisition were all over the damn map. There was no One Way It Happened; there was no Supposed To Be, By Now.

Because there’s “earlier is better” and then there’s…11 months. That’s  just….too early. I would personally be REALLY REALLY suspicious of anyone who tried to “officially” peg your son as delayed this young, or told you he needed expensive therapies and interventions. He’s a baby. He’s got his own pace. There’s a really, really wide range of “normal” and I implore you to please, stop worrying about this.

You’ve taken him multiple places. You’ve had him evaluated. (8 months expressive at 11 months is not really a “delay.” That is well within an expected range because it’s not an exact statistical science when you’re evaluating a BABY. You could probably evaluate him a dozen times and get a slightly different month result each time, depending on the therapist and your kid’s mood.) You admit you’re alone in your worries and suspicions AND that you have a history of diagnosing non-existent problems, only to be told by doctors that you’re wrong.

And yet you still can’t let this go. You are still clearly convinced he’s delayed despite no external support for your theory, you’re worrying about outcomes and special schools, and are basically asking me to tell you the “right” age at which you’re allowed to officially freak out over this thing you’ve diagnosed that — honestly — stems from some pretty odd expectations of what he “should” be doing. I mean…you’re worried that he’s not repeating “bingo” accurately enough? (What baby says “bingo”? What’s really so unusual about “Bghghg”? Raspberries are great! They work the oral motor skills he’ll need for later language! They are also very funny! Maybe he’s making up a game, or maybe he’s just annoyed at you constantly in his face trying to get him to say “bingo.” Blow a raspberry back at him and see if he repeats it. Look! He’s communicating! Raspberries count, I swear.)

And by the way, none of my boys said “mama” or “dada” with any purpose or frequency before their first birthday. NONE of them. Mama was probably one of the last words, and dadadadada was a stand-in for all kinds of things that were not actually Dada. They made sounds, and it was cute, and now I have three kids who never, ever shut the hell up.

Some kids babble early but talk late. Some kids babble late and then skip right to sentences. Some kids babble and talk late, and on and on the scenarios go. Boys often talk later than girls, and birth order can factor in as well. (A firstborn who isn’t around other peers his age a lot might talk later, especially if he’s the sole focus of his caregivers’ attention and doesn’t need to communicate needs to get them met. On the other hand, a child with older, verbal siblings might let them do all the talking…or might talk earlier in order to assert themselves and stand out from the pack.)

And yeah, some kids are speech delayed and need some speech therapy to catch up. IT’S STILL NOT A BIG DEAL. It can feel like it, of course, but…it’s not. There is nothing in your letter that — to me, who admittedly doesn’t know your son, but I assume you’re documenting your concerns accurately and not holding anything back — remotely suggests that you have any reason to worry about a speech delay right now. And even if there was something beyond him babbling kind of late and still simplistically (like a premature birth or illness or marked motor skill delays), I would still tell you to chill out for now, he’s so young and has so much time, just give the kid some time to develop at his own unique pace. There’s nothing he’s “supposed” to be doing right now other than growing up.  Enjoy him. And those funny little raspberries.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Megan L
Guest

I feel like my 20 month old is kind of ridiculously verbal now, bur at 11 months all she said was “Hi!” We got lots dadada and bababa, but they didn’t connect to anything. Around 15 months she started picking up a few more words and now she’s a little chatterbox and mimic, but she’s almost a year older than this baby! She also had a cousin who was saying Mommy and Dog and Daddy at 12 months (they’re two weeks apart) which of course freaked me out because was my baby behind?? and now they are both insanely talkative… Read more »

Whitney
Guest
Whitney

Don’t stress yet. Einstein supposedly didn’t really talk until he was 3 or something. I think he turned out okay 🙂

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

My brother didn’t babble or talk much until right before his second birthday.  He hasn’t stopped talking since.  Kid’s master things in different areas at different times, so if he’s working on moving around, he doesn’t have much energy left for vocalizing.  

Mila
Guest
Mila

I have 3yo twins. By the time they they were 18 mo they didn’t have one word. I wasn’t worried but the Dr pushed and we got them started in early intervention when they were 2. After 9 months of speech therapy, they don’t stop talking now. We also started preschool a couple of months ago. So… Boys will be boys, language is not their strongest skill. My daughter had full sentences by 2yo… Chill, relax and wait. Good luck!

Wendy
Guest
Wendy

I agree with Amy on this.  Its a dangerous and slippery slope to hold unrealistic expectations to your children based on statistics and comparisons.  As a parent, its hard not to worry and it can be easy to see things that may not even be there.  Even if there was a problem, worrying about it this much is taking away your ability to enjoy the time with your baby.  Please, don’t miss out on these precious moments with him by hyper focusing on something that may or may not present a problem.  Go beyond being worried and over protective and… Read more »

Jeannie
Guest
Jeannie

My son is 8. He was tested last year as highly gifted, with verbal scores four grades ahead of where he is chronologically. And he didn’t say his first word until he was THIRTEEN MONTHS. Like … no words. Lots of babble. Nothing at all recognizable. So like everyone else here? My advice is PLEASE don’t stress about this. My kid started late by many measures, then had a MAJOR burst of language around 16-17 months and never looked back. If no one else is worried — doctors, caregivers — you should probably take a deep breath and try to… Read more »

Robin
Guest
Robin

I don’t think I’ve ever completely disagreed so much with Amy as I do on this one.  I HATE being told to calm down.  If you’re worried, call your county’s early intervention people.  They’ll take at least a month to do some paperwork and come out and see you.  The worst thing they can tell you is to calm down/your kid doesn’t qualify.  But maybe they agree with you and they’ll start services or have some advice.  And btw, a 3 month delay at 11 months is a 27% delay which should almost definitely qualify you for services.  Yes, those… Read more »

mla
Guest
mla

But she’s already received an opinion from an expert. I also hate when people tell me to calm down, but the anxiety is oozing off of this person’s question. She herself says that she can’t trust her judgment because she assumes there’s a problem. I really can relate to the person asking the question because with anxiety, normal judgment and “gut” doesn’t really work. At various times, I could have written the same type of question about my sons, when I was just so worried about what could go wrong that I didn’t have any perspective. Anxiety meds have really… Read more »

meg
Guest
meg

Speech pathologist here. 27% delay would NOT qualify them for services if it’s the only area where there are delays. He would need 33% in one area or 25% in 2 or more areas (motor skills, etc.)

He also scored five months AHEAD of age expectations in receptive language. This (from what she wrote) does not sound like a language delay, but like an average kid for his age. She should really calm down for now, and get another evaluation if he still hasn’t made gains in about 6 months or so, or if he gains words but then loses them. 

Abby
Guest
Abby

I agree with Robin. My mom is a speech and language pathologist and works exclusively with very young children. She would tell you there is intervention that can be done now that is far less
Drastic than what will be done further down the road. My sons physical therapist would tell you that pediatricians notoriously ignore the earliest signs of problems as a wait and see method. They only see your child once every few months and for a very small amount of time. You are your child’s biggest advocate. If you think something is just not right, trust your gut.

Ellie
Guest
Ellie

I have a 6-month-old that started out with some feeding and weight gain issues, and I immediately went on the offensive, pushing my newborn through several rounds of lactation consultants, physical therapy, pediatric dentistry consults, craniosacral therapy, and speech therapy in the first few months of his life. He’s totally fine now…just a little quirky about feeding, but we make it work. There was a period of time where I was taking the kiddo a different therapy or doctor’s appointment almost every day. The whole time I was convinced that his feeding stuff was a harbinger of horrible stuff yet… Read more »

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

Hi! I agree with Amy that there probably is nothing the matter with your son re speech development, but I must admit that I am quite concerned about you and how you are feeling. First time motherhood is a scary business, what with one thing and another, and since you have said you are quite prone to worrying generally and anxieties over unnecessary things, it might well be worth your while to see whether some cognitive behavioural therapy might be helpful. No. I am not saying you are crazy to be concerned for your kid (who isn’t??), just that if… Read more »

Beth
Guest
Beth

Please enjoy your baby! Before you know it, you won’t remember his first laugh, his first steps, his first tooth. It will all be lost  and all you will remember is this fog of worry. I lost a lot of firsts with this (my last) son because his colic had me all wrapped up in knots.  I understand that you are worried, my son still clenches his fists (yeah, I don’t understand why this bothers me so much!). It’s hard not to overanalyze, but really, if something IS wrong you’ll find out and have plenty of time to work on… Read more »

Ali
Guest
Ali

I agree with Amy—relaxation for the next few months is definitely in order! My little guy didn’t say his first word until around 14 months, and at his 15 month appointment I shared my concerns with our pediatrician. She encouraged me to relax until his 18 month visit as these milestones are different for every child. She compared speech to walking–most kids walk around a year, but some earlier and some later—neither is indicative of a problem necessarily. My son had an absolutely language explosion between 16-17 months and picked up at least one word a day during that time… Read more »

Becky
Guest
Becky

Our pediatrician recommended early intervention for our son at 12 months.  He had no words and it was as though he knew it and would become furious when he couldn’t communicate what he wanted (or more likely, didn’t want!)  She said if in a month he still wasn’t talking and still throwing meltdown tantrums, to make the call.  So we did.  We had one hour weekly in home visits for about 4 months, and by his 18 month check he was all but completely caught up to the “should be” list.  Now at 5 1/2 years he will. not. shut.… Read more »

Samantha
Guest
Samantha

Keep in mind that lots of boys focus on gross motor skills and then talk later. Like a certain little dude over here who said only ball at fifteen months and now converses beautifully. Incidentally, he also never had one of the common language “explosions.” Just a slow, steady accumulation.

Kristy
Guest
Kristy

I had similar concerns about my son around the 12-month mark. He babbled, but didn’t say mama or dada or bye-bye, didn’t wave, didn’t clap or play patty-cake, hadn’t taken any steps yet… I was very nervous, and I was constantly checking the developmental checklists (which only made me crazier). It turned out that my son just needed a little time. (I LOL’d so hard when he finally clapped LITERALLY THE DAY AFTER HIS FIRST BIRTHDAY) Like many others have noted, his language absolutely exploded at 16 months and now at 20 months he has more words than I can… Read more »

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

Is this supposed to be tagged under Advice Smackdown?

Isabel Kallman
Admin

thanks for catching that. mistake on our part. it’s been fixed now.

Karen
Guest
Karen

I think it’s really important to keep something in mind. You can ask the same question, over and over to various people, and eventually you can find someone who gives you the answer that you want to hear. Does that make them right, and everyone else wrong? 

Kirsten
Guest
Kirsten

I feel for you so much. While I agree with everyone regarding the advice to relax a bit (or a lot), I know that can be hard to do. My boy does have a pretty serious speech delay that started out pretty similarly to what you describe, and everyone was telling me it was in my head and to relax and he’s so young and peppering me with stories about late talkers – except the professionals. They did take me seriously from the beginning. Even so, we weren’t actually referred to evaluate until 20 months. Here’s the difference, though. You’ve… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

At 11.5 months my boy wasn’t saying squat. Maybe syllables here and there but certainly no words. He also didn’t clap or seem to understand much of anything. I admit to being mildly concerned BUT…we didn’t have him tested or anything. He’s now just barely two and majorly advanced, verbally…probably speaking and understanding on a 3-4 year old level (if we’re going by the charts, which I also don’t really take too much stock in). The point is…his progress at 11 months was obviously in no way indicative of his ability. He was just absorbing things so he could turn… Read more »

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

At her 12 month my Daughter had 0 words. By 13 months she had 7. But that doesn’t mean anything for YOUR story. I understand that lots of people say “trust your mommy gut” but your mommy gut really has never had experience with a 1 year old before. If you had noted multiple small issues, if anyone other than you was concerned (like his primary caregiver) than I would say keep pushing. But this is one thing, and he’s still VERY MUCH on the spectrum of normal. I think you need to take a deep breath and talk to… Read more »

Lilly
Guest
Lilly

I sympathize. I worried when my son didn’t crawl until 11 months, and then didn’t walk until 16 months, and his teeth didn’t come in until after he was 1 year old. It felt like a never ending race that we (we!) were always failing. Now, he’s three and fully caught up verbally and physically, but I regret all the time I spent worrying, and kind of giving him the message (unconsciously) that he was not enough, that he was not doing enough. Just my two cents.

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

Okay – so I can sympathize with you. My daughter – who just turned two last week – had no words at a year. None. She had also started doing things that were alarming to us – she didn’t respond when we called her, she had no signs, and she started to regress. By regress, I mean, she stopped waving and clapping, things she had done at 9 and 10 months. She also was not pointing at all. When I mentioned these things to her pediatrician, he jumped into high gear – scheduling a hearing test, a visit with a… Read more »

Sara
Guest
Sara

I’d encourage the original writer to consider the possibility that she is worrying over nothing, but also to consider the possibility that the reason for her anxiety is that something is wrong and she is able to sense it. There is a good video about early detection of autism (12 months) here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVgPlURSad8 with the most relevant material starting at about the 4 minute mark. You’ve already gotten an evaluation and so it is probably best to wait a few months, but if you still feel that your baby is delayed I would move heaven and earth to get another one… Read more »

Jill
Guest
Jill

I have 4 kids (2 older boys and 2 girls who are just now 11 months).  NONE of them have had words at 11 months.  The twins babble way more than the boys ever did, but honestly neither of the boys had real words until after they turned 2.   My husband was concerned about my second son not talking at 2, so I asked his pediatrician at his 2 year appointment.  The doctor was not worried that my son wasn’t talking yet and said that it was still early and not unusual for him not to have many words.… Read more »

Lindsay
Guest
Lindsay

My daughter had no real words yet at 11 months. But soon after she did, and now she’s almost 3 and talks up a storm. I know other people have had experiences that led them down the road to needing intervention. Which just goes to Amy’s point: all kids are different, and that’s the reason experts often tell you to wait and see what’s really going on. Only time will tell. And that’s hard. That said, most of the responses (and sort of Amy’s) fall into two camps: get intervention for your kid, or get intervention for yourself. Why not… Read more »

meg
Guest
meg

Hi, I’m a speech-language pathologist. First, I want to say that you did ABSOLUTELY THE RIGHT THING by getting your son evaluated. Seriously, good on you.  I always worry when these posts come out and a bunch of commenters pop up and say “my kid was completely fine!”, that someone will read it and decide to not get an evaluation. Yes, your kid will probably also be just fine, but an evaluation won’t hurt.  For you, you already got an evaluation and your son scored within normal limits. The professionals didn’t think that he needed speech therapy. Remember that the… Read more »

Elisabeth
Guest
Elisabeth

*If* your son does end up needing speech therapy, well, as the cliché goes, there are decidedly worse things. The therapist said your son’s understanding and sociability are good, so yea for that! Intervention will still be early in a few months, and if it were my child (who is only 4 months, but does have family history) I would/will wait a bit before even trying for a second opinion. Speech therapy was kinda fun for me, for all that I started at 3 in head start and was still a regular at 10. (loosing the hearing in one ear… Read more »

Julieta
Guest
Julieta

Dear Amy, I am the original crazy mom of this post! Well, my son is 24 months now…and indeed a late talker 🙁 I have been pretty worried…as you might guess…all the way from the time I wrote about my 11 month old to now… Today, he has 100 words, and combines them into 2 word phrases only sometimes…he was and is always within 1 SD for expressive language…to this day! Since 9 months old! He has been tested various times, and he still has average receptive skills (two step commands), advanced cognitive skills (matching by color and shape, puzzles),… Read more »