Red Flags of Speech Delay


The ability to express our thoughts and feelings is crucial to our survival as social beings. Children begin their journey of developing their speech as early as 2 months where they start cooing and make gurgling sounds. Speech is a developmental milestone that is observable and developmental problems may be indicated if a child is observed to not use their words to communicate. Thus, any delays in speech especially early on in a child’s development should not be taken lightly.

As we all know, individuals with autism may find it difficult to socialize as well as communicate their wants and needs which may result in frustration and tantrum behaviours. With a poor ability to utilize speech, it may be difficult to integrate individuals with autism into school and community settings.

Depending on the severity of the autism symptoms, some individuals may find it very challenging to develop appropriate use of speech to communicate. Nevertheless, not all hope is lost as studies have shown that speech and language can be developed even if a child demonstrate severe language delays. What’s important then is to detect the early signs and red flags of a speech delay so that early intervention can be conducted to help the child’s receptive and expressive language and communication. 

The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) have listed down the red flags of speech delay that parents and clinicians should look out for in a child:

  • No babbling or cooing by 12 months
  • No gestures (finger point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
  • No single words by 16 months
  • No two word phrases by 24 months
  • Any loss of language skill at any age

Parents especially should monitor closely if their child is hitting the typical developmental milestones and take precautionary steps in the case their child does show any signs of delay. Parents should see a paediatrician or a speech pathologist if their child is demonstrating delays in speech.

Parents, here are some tips on what you can do with your child to push for their speech development:

  1. Choose ONE language to expose to your child initially. Trying to get your child to understand two or more languages at one go will confuse the child.
  2. Simplify language. Avoid speaking in long sentences, use 1-2 word sentences to communicate to your child. This ensures that the language you are using is what you child understands and is more likely to use.
  3. Comment or label more instead of asking questions. Using statements will make it easier for your child to reciprocate with language.
  4. Acknowledge your child’s input to let your child know that you’re listening and are interested. This includes any nonverbal requests (e.g. hand leading, reaching for objects).
  5. Model appropriate language to accompany your child’s nonverbal communication (for example, If your child pulls your hand to take a ball that is out of his or her reach, you can say “ball”).
  6. Acknowledge any verbal communication by repeating words or vocalization your child makes.

As a closing tip, set aside some undivided time with your child at least 30 minutes a day, with no screen time. This will help build your child's attention and speech as well.

Look out for our next blog post to find out more on typical developmental milestones!