I am not an expert in speech or language development. But as a former children's pastor, an aunt and, now a mom, I have met many children who have had speech delay. I've seen everything from kids getting the earliest intervention to older elementary children just on the cusp of receiving services.
According to the National Institute of Deafness and Language Communication, 5% of all first graders have a communication disorder. Of those, 67% are speech related. And in younger children, the percentage of communication disorders is slightly higher at 8 or 9%. To put it all into perspective, this means that in the average U.S. classroom there is likely one child who has a communication disorder.
All that to say, speech and language delays are not uncommon. In fact, they are the most common of developmental delays. Of course, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be a concern or that parents shouldn't know the the warning signs. In fact, I think it's important for parents to know what to look for because early intervention can make a difference!
Language vs. Speech
Speech is the sound that comes out of our mouths. Language has to do with meanings, rather than sounds. (Source)
What is a language or speech delay?
We all know that each child develops at a slightly different pace but there are markers in place to help professionals and parents know if a child is on track. A delay simply means that the language or speech is not progressing at the rate it should be, according to the milestone markers.
How to tell if your child has a delay
Again, children will develop and progress at a slightly different rate. And, in many cases, that's ok. However, there are some milestones that are considered "normal". If your child has not hit these milestones, you should contact your pediatrician (often times a hearing test is a first step) or your local center for developmental disabilities (I called our regional center and asked for an evaluation for my son). I will be sharing in more detail about the milestones in another post but here are some fairly simple ways to identify if your child may have a delay in hitting these markers.
By six months
Rarely coos or babbles.
By age one
Doesn't seem to understand common first words.
Doesn't say "mama" or "dada".
By age two
Rarely names family members or common objects.
Doesn't say two-worded sentences.
Doesn't point to objects or people to express want or need.
By age three
Does not follow simple directions or speak in sentences of three or four words.
Does not try to say familiar rhymes or songs.
Does not tell stories, either real or make-believe, or ask frequent questions.
Something that really helped me was reading somewhere that speech is meant to be understood. Obviously, I know that, but this really put my mind at ease that I'm not just being paranoid when it comes to my son's speech. Though, he has met the milestones, he is difficult to understand (particularly, for other people). And I will do whatever I need to do to help him be be better understood!
I think the most important thing to remember when wondering about your child's development, in any area, is to trust your instincts. If you have a concern, get it checked out. There is no harm in that; it will either end up getting your child some needed intervention or it will bring you peace of mind (or both!).