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First Words

My child has not started speaking or is not using many words. Should I be concerned?

Most children start saying their first words around somewhere between 8 and 12 months. Keep in mind that when a child starts saying their first words, they will not pronounce the word in the same way that an adult does. For example the word 'ball' may be 'ba', the 'cat' may be 'at'. A sound sequence is considered a first word when the child uses the same set of sounds each time they see a particular item. That is, every time you child sees the ball, s/he says 'ba'.

There is a lot of variation between children. The following milestones can give you a guide:


Given the wide variation when children begin to speak, as a rule of thumb, consider an assessment for your child if at:

12 months: Your child does 'chat' (using mostly non-speech words), did not babble when younger, and is not using gestures (e.g. pointing, waving, extending arm to show you something), putting arms up to be picked up).

18 months: If you child has no words.

2 years: If your child has fewer than 50 words.
In many cases, teaching parents some strategies for enhancing their child's language skills will be all that is required and with a language rich home environment, many children will catch up to their peers.

In some cases, disabilities can be detected as early as 12 months of age. In many other cases there can be early warning signs, but the disorder will not be evident until the child is around 2 or 3 years old. Regardless of whether a child has a delay or a disorder, providing the parents with strategies to enhance oral language skills and providing children with a language rich home environment, will give a child the very best start.

1. Fenson, L., Marchman, V. A., Thal, D. J., Dale, P. S., Reznick, J. S. and Bates, E., (2007). MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories. User's Guide and Technical Manual. 2nd Ed. Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.