My 19-Month-Old Says Only Two Words
Q: My son is a second child. He is 19 months and doesn't speak other than ma-ma or da-da and doesn't really seem to associate those words to his father and me. He doesn't seem interested in the TV and when I try to read or show him simple books, he shows no interest. As a baby, he showed signs he was not hearing, but now I feel he hears us and will respond appropriately when asked to do something (most of the time, e.g., "put cup on coaster"). When I try getting to him to repeat words, he shows no interest, e.g., in giving him cup, I say "cup" or if he wants to be picked up, I try to get him to say "up." Should I be worried like I am or not? His doctor doesn't seem concerned. She finally says that a 21 months if he still isn't talking to come back and maybe she'll refer him for a speech/hearing evaluation. Should I insist on an earlier eval?

A: You are obviously concerned and worried about your little boy. I would suggest that you do not wait a few months, but rather take your son for an evaluation now.

Since many factors can affect language learning, either slowing it down or enhancing it, children often develop at a slower or faster rate then what is expected. At this age, it is very important that a child show continued growth from one stage to the next. The first three years of life are a critical period in the development of language and set the groundwork for future learning.

I would suggest that you call your local school district or county health department for information about early intervention services in your county. This is a mandated federal program and a free language and hearing screening or evaluation can be provided for your son. If he meets the qualifications for service, service providers may be able to come to your home to provide services for him. This will certainly set your mind at ease if you learn that he is developing as he should, or get him the needed help early. If you would rather have a private evaluation, you can call the American Speech/Hearing Language Association (800-638-8255) for a referral to a Speech/Language Pathologist in your area.

Continue to provide a language rich environment for him to learn and grow. Do not ask him to repeat words, but instead give him words for his feelings and actions. Talk, read, and sing to him often. Use the following three talking techniques as you go about your daily life activities:

  • Self-Talk: In this technique, you talk out loud about what you are seeing, feeling, hearing and touching. Self-talk can be used with any activity. Example: "I am looking for my new hat. Here it is."

  • Parallel Talk: In this technique, you talk out loud about what your child is seeing, feeling, hearing, and touching. Parallel talk also can be used with any activity. Example: "You are splashing in the bathtub."

    Remember to speak slowly and clearly to your child. If you speak at a slow, but comfortable pace and enunciate clearly, it will be easier for your child to learn the individual words. Emphasizing and repeating words may also help.

  • Repetition. Example: "See the sock. It goes on your foot, foot. Foot." It is important to emphasize and repeat words because children must hear a word many times before they can connect a meaning to it and eventually say it.