What is a communication delay?

By January 20, 2020 May 14th, 2023 Speech Pathology
young children with autism learning imitation skills in the ESDM

Communication is a complex yet fascinating process. Speech Pathologists understand that the early years in your child’s life are a critical time for communication development. Watching your child begin to communicate, and then to become a very proficient communicator is an amazing process. All of this happens in a relatively short period of time, and it is a process that Speech Pathologists understand in great detail. We constantly assess children to see if there is a communication delay. Many children development communication in a straightforward manner. However, some children take longer to talk, and some children need help to build the foundations for communication. The following checklists have been developed by our Speech Pathologists and are a guide to the skills that children should develop between their first and fifth birthdays.

Speech Pathologists understand that there is variation amongst children in their communication development. The following checklists can be used as a guide for children’s communication development. The checklists will you give you an idea about whether your child has a communication delay.

At 3 Months:

  • Makes plenty of noise by cooing and gurgling
  • Reacts to loud noises or new sounds
  • Soothed by calm, gentle voices

At 6 Months:

  • Watches your face and makes noises when you talk Coos and squeals for attention
  • Cries differently when hungry
  • Laughs
  • Uses some early babbling sounds such as ‘ka,ga,ba’

At 9 Months:

  • Looks when own name is called
  • Babbles using repeated consonant/vowel combinations such as ‘bababa’
  • Listens to and imitates consonant sounds e.g. ‘p,b,m,k,g,t,d,’
  • Uses some gestures
  • Starts to search for objects that they can’t see
  • Plays ‘peek-a-boo’

At 12 Months:

  • Copies actions and words
  • Understands common words such as ‘bye-bye’
  • Recognises the names of a few common objects Understands ‘no’
  • Gives toy or object when asked
  • Starts to follow instructions without help from a gesture e.g. ‘Time for bed’
  • Understands and anticipates routines
  • Has labels for familiar objects e.g. ‘bo’ for ‘bottle’
  • May say their first meaningful word
  • Babbling sounds more like sentences

At 18 Months:

  • Points to some body parts when asked
  • Understands simple questions ‘Where is the dog?’
  • Follows simple instructions ‘Don’t touch’ ‘Come here’
  • Understands many familiar words
  • May use between 5-25 words
  • Gestures or asks for ‘more, again’
  • Uses inflection during verbal interactions

At 2 years:

  • Understands directions such as ’Get your book’
  • Identifies objects in books e.g. ‘Where’s the dog?’
  • Uses two word combinations
  • Says descriptive words such as ‘hungry, big, hot’
  • Uses more verbs e.g.. sit, run, jump
  • Asks simple questions ‘What that?’
  • Enjoys listening to simple stories
  • Says at least 50 words, but can understand more
  • Uses at least one pronoun e.g. me, mine, you
  • Greets and farewells consistently
  • Points to ears, eyes, nose when asked

At 3 Years:

  • Follows two-part related directions e.g.. ‘Go to the kitchen and get your cup’
  • Listens to stories and answers simple questions
  • Uses three words or more in sentences
  • Has vocabulary of at least 200 words, up to 500
  • Participates in short conversations
  • Asks lots of questions, including ‘Why?’
  • Talks about something that happened in the past
  • Knows what simple objects are used for
  • Understands and uses more descriptive words – cold, big, little
  • Understands thirsty, hungry, sleepy
  • Has some location words – in, on, off out of
  • Has some quantity words – one, some, all
  • Understands and uses more concepts – under, inside, outside
  • Starts to use plural and past tense words

At 4 Years:

  • Can follow 3 step commands
  • Sentences are more complete and complex
  • Grammar becomes more complex, uses more word endings
  • Uses ‘I, me, you, he, she’
  • Answers ‘Who, how, how many’ questions
  • Can tell a basic story that is easy to follow
  • Can start a conversation
  • Stays on topic
  • Uses language to create pretend situations when playing with others
  • Understood by strangers most of the time
  • Can follow commands that are unrelated e.g.. ‘Turn off the TV and put your bike away’
  • Names some shapes and colours
  • Understands some category names e.g.. furniture, clothes

At 5 Years:

  • 3-4 step commands
  • Can explain what an object is used for
  • Answers ‘When’ and ‘why’ questions
  • Talks about past, future and imaginary events
  • Participates in long, detailed questions
  • Understood by strangers all of the time
  • May continue to have some errors with the later sounds such as ‘v, ch, l, r, s, sh, th, ch’
  • Sorts objects by shape, colour and function
  • Verbalises opposites and comparatives
  • Begins to have concept of time – before, after, now, later, yesterday, today, tomorrow
  • Sentences should be grammatically correct apart from irregular parts of speech
  • Identifies rhyming words

Here are more communication checklists from Speech Pathology Australia. They can be used to help you decide if your child needs to be assessed for a communication delay.

If you have any concerns about your child’s communication development, then call our Bondi Junction or Mascot clinic. Our Speech Pathologists are alway very happy to discuss your concerns. We can be contacted on (02) 80657837 or email us.