Child Development SC Series – Language Milestones From Birth To Three

Knowing whether your child is meeting the proper developmental milestones at the right pace can be confusing, especially to new parents. All children develop at different rates, and yet it’s important for parents to know that their child is on the right track as they grow up. Your pediatrician will certainly be able to take an active role in guiding you as your child grows through this process, but as an Early Intervention provider in South Carolina, we know it can still be helpful for parents to learn more for themselves. 

Developmental milestones are generally categorized into areas such as speech, motor skills, cognitive, and social-emotional.  In this article, we cover some of the key speech and language milestones that occur from birth to age three.

The First Year of A Baby’s Speech Development

Early in a child’s life, the infant’s body and brain are developing and maturing at an extremely rapid rate. It is an intensive time, where acquiring early speech skills is so important. Well before complete words or sentences are ever spoken, the building blocks of language are forming in your child. As a parent, you can be on the lookout during their first year for key indicators that your child’s speech skills are developing. 

At first, the simplest signs, such as coos and gurgling and crying, are a great starting point. Even at a young age, the child should turn their head towards sounds and begin babbling, especially if being babbled back to, by you the parent. In fact, tears and crying to get your attention and their needs met is an excellent sign that a child is moving positively towards early communication. When a baby is first born, most cries sound the same, but as the baby begins maturing, the cries become more specific to what he/she wants or needs.  They understand almost immediately that a cry will get their needs met, but later on, certain cries will mean different things, such as I am hungry, I am wet, I am tired. Thankfully, these differentiated cries help a parent to learn their child and their needs.

By about six months old, babbling will become even more expressive. Vowel noises and trying to copy back the sounds made by adults who hold them will begin. Hearing is a big part of a child beginning to make these sounds, and so it is also something to consider if your baby is not making these sounds when developmentally appropriate. As time goes on, they will begin pointing their fingers while making noises, and certain words or sounds spoken to them will elicit increasing giggles, concern, fear, or other expressed emotions. This milestone of interacting with others may not seem like a major gateway into communication, but reacting to his/her environment is an early step towards learning to respond, interact, and eventually communicate with other people.

By twelve months old, simple words will have emerged. “Mama” and “Dada” and “Uh oh” are great examples. Early sounds like “p”, “b”, and “m” are the easiest for a baby to imitate when babbling.  That’s why mama and papa are often the first words a baby will utter. Isn’t it amazing that the first words to initiate language development are the same first words parents want to hear? Even nonverbal communication, such as gestures like waving bye-bye or shaking the head for “No” – these all will have begun and point to healthy development of speech and language skills. 

Language Milestones During the Ages of One and Two Years Old

During age one and two years old, speech and communication begin to pick up rapidly. The child’s comprehension of words and ideas being spoken to them will be evident, and small word vocabularies of 200 words or less will be forming. Over time, this vocabulary grows and yet it is certainly understandable if some stumbling and stuttering over words occur. 

Words like “I” and “me” will be increasingly used, with childhood songs and nursery rhymes playing an important role in comprehension as well as repetition. Their developing vocabularies will include common objects and familiar actions. Even using plurals for multiple objects will become evident. 

Toddler Speech Milestones By Three Years Old

By three years old, a child’s spoken and nonverbal communication has developed immensely. Questions can be answered with “Yes” or “No”. The ability to hear and create rhymes, say their own name and the names of family members, friends, pets, and storybook characters – these all have emerged. Speaking a few sequential numbers and using very simple sentences to communicate to strangers will be clear and evident. 

Developmental Difficulties and Child Speech Delays

Difficulties with child communication come in three forms: articulation, receptive language, and expressive language.  All can be addressed through speech therapy. Communication issues can also include fluency (stuttering) and voice. I think we could either go into those as well or just say these 3 are the 3 most common areas of need.

Articulation delays are related to how a child produces sounds.  There are developmental milestones for when a child should be able to say certain sounds.  A lot of times articulation errors are not caught until the child attends school unless a parent or pediatrician recognizes more severe errors. 

Receptive language refers to how a child understands language. If a child doesn’t seem to process simple directions, there could be evidence of a receptive language deficit. The severity can determine what level of speech therapy a child might need. 

A third area of speech concern is expressive language, and this refers to what a child is able to communicate. This varies from articulation and phonology to missing out on key vocabulary words.

Bright Start Early Intervention and Speech Therapy

All of the factors and milestones we described in this article can help a parent determine if early childhood speech therapy might be helpful for their child prior to entering school. Early Intervention and Speech Therapy are key services we offer within South Carolina at Bright Start. These services offer an excellent way to address speech and language delays in the child’s developmental cycle. For more information on our South Carolina services or to ask specific questions about your child’s development, we encourage you to speak to your pediatrician or to contact us directly.

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