Fort Worth, Texas,
16:10 PM

Is my child's speech 'normal?'

A speech pathologist and the development question that makes her cringe

I often hear some form of this question from parents, "Is my child normal?"

That question makes me cringe. Not because of the question itself. I understand it. As parents, we all want what’s best for our children. I’m not afraid of the question or looking to evade it. It’s just who is making the choice on what’s “normal.” I use the opportunity to talk to parents. To reframe what may be thought of as normal, go over their concerns and provide perspective.

Here are some basic guidelines that I give to parents on how a child should be developmentally from 1 to 6 years old. Every child is different and this is only a starting point. If you have you concerns, please talk with your pediatrician for a referral to a speech/language pathologist.

  • 12 months old - Children usually can say 1-21 words on their own, actively listen, wave bye-bye, look around when asked, "Where is __?" and use real and toy objects to act out common actions, e.g., feeding, cleaning, etc.
  • 24 months old - Speak 145-150 words, combine 2-3 words, produce plural - s and - ing words, enjoy nursery rhymes, finger play and songs and put 2-3 actions in symbolic play.
  • 30 months old - Say 360-600 words, speak in simple sentences, have his or her speech understood by family members, listen to real stories and start role playing in life experiences, such as going to the doctor.
  • 36 months old - Say so many words you can't count them, have his or her speech understood by more than half the people your child meets, use "I, me, my and you" correctly. Answer what, where, when and who questions and retell familiar stories. At this age, children should be asking questions, not learning to read yet, but enjoying books and making friends. 
  • 4 years old - Your child should start playing with words and making up stories. Most children at this age will be playing with friends and pretending to be a superhero, a cowboy, a parent or an animal. Children may begin using voices as characters and creating their own costumes and props.
  • 5 years old - Most children at this age have started school. They can sit and listen for a whole story. They will start using words such as "know, understand and think." They will talk to ask questions, to explain things and to imagine.
  • 6 years old - At this age, most children begin to speak more like grownups, especially at school. They can be polite when talking and know when adults don't understand what they have said. Often times, children will be able to change what they originally said to be better understood. Children at this age should be able to use all of their speech sounds and begin reading.

You know your child better than anyone and of course there will be times when your child just won't pay attention or doesn't feel like reading. But these general guidelines should be taken into account as an overall view of your child's development. I hope this helps give a better understanding of what we observe as speech patholigsts at Cook Children's.

*The vocabulary ranges used in this blog are based on MacArthur-Bates CDI.

About the author

Carol Edley, M.S., CCC-SLP, is a speech/language pathologist at Cook Children'sSpeech/language pathologists focus on oral motor, speech, language and communication skills to enhance development, restore function and to prevent disability from pediatric conditions, illness or injury.

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