When to consider speech therapy for your tot

SpeachIt's hard to know is your child's speech issues are normal or something you should seek out speech therapy to address.

Cara Greene knew something was wrong when her son wasn't communicating at all at 12 months.

"There was no clapping, waving, pointing, no mimicking of sounds, no mama/dada, no following simple directions," says the Bowie mom of two.

Despite friends telling her not to worry, Greene started special education therapy and speech and language therapy when he was 14 months old. And she's glad she did. Before his 3rd birthday he was doing fine and right on target with his language skills.

"Knowing some of the speech and language milestones is a great way to help ensure your child's continued growth," says Elle J. Abell, a pediatric speech language pathologist at Cypress Creek Therapy Associates in Severna Park and Edgewater. "However, if you feel that your child's speech and or language skills are delayed, you should contact a speech language pathologist.

"Early intervention is key," agrees Jacqueline Paterson, a speech language pathologist and owner of Speech Matters in Annapolis. "Waiting to see if your child is a 'late bloomer' is risky. If the child needs help, the best success is starting early."

Important speech milestones and warning signs

Here are some speech and language milestones, as well as warning signs that something maybe wrong, from Abell and Paterson.

  • By age 1, something may be amiss if your a child is not babbling and doesn't follow simple directions or appear to listen, Paterson says.
  • By age 2, your child should be able to point to body parts, follow simple commands, and point to pictures named in a book. You should hear more and more words develop as the days go by, and the child may be putting two words together, Abell says. Be concerned if familiar people can't understand his speech and he becomes frustrated when misunderstood. Other signs of possible problems include failure to imitate, drooling and trouble chewing, Paterson says.
  • By age 3, most children use between two to three words, and sometimes more, to talk about things or to make requests. Children should also understand two-step instructions and requests. Speech should be understood by familiar listeners most of the time, Abell says.
  • By age 4, your child should be able to answer who, what, where and simple why questions. He should also use several sentences containing four or more words, and his speech should be understood even by unfamiliar listeners. If you have to repeat directions often, this could be a red flag.
  • At any age, you should seek help if your child shows signs of frustration or avoids speaking.