So my child is 3 and still not speaking!

The age at which children learn language (to speak) can vary.  For some words will start forming before their 1st birthday and for others it will take longer.  For parents it is vital to understand how speech and language develops and also what the milestones for normal speech and language development are.

The first 3 years of life is the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills.  The first signs of communication occur when an infant learn that a cry will bring food or company, this is followed by babbling, then imitation of sounds at around 12 month and by 24 months your child should be able to use phrases such as “more milk” or “go bye-bye”.

Whilst we know that the timetable for language development is a broad one, we also know that many children run into roadblocks when it comes to speech development and the reality is that a 30 – 36 month old child should have a developed vocabulary (3 word sentences) with clear speech – speech that can be understood by anybody in his/her family.

There are a variety of reasons behind speech delays.  Boys are known to develop speech later than girls, preemies often take longer to reach their speech milestones – an estimated 50% of multiples have some language delay but by age 2 they all usually start catching up. 

Speech Delays and Autism:

Whilst Autism is not the only reason a child does not speak.  Speech delays are very common amongst children on the Autism Spectrum.  There is however a big difference between an Autistic Speech Delay and other speech development problems.  Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will have additional developmental problems such as:

  • Special interests (that special toy that is almost like an obsession for the child)
  • May rarely or never imitate other’s actions (not waving, or clapping hands when asked to do so)
  • Does not communicate using pointing or gestures between ages 24 – 36 months
  • Language processing difficulties (when it feels like the child is not listening to you when you talk to them)
  • Sensory Integration Issues such as blocking ears or humming
  • Emotional and/or anxiety related challenges (tantrums, battles to regulate)
  • Autists tend to be very content when left alone to pursue their own interests
  • The Autistic child will more often than not develop slower from a “life skills perspective” (toilet training,  feeding self,  trying to dress or undress self)

So if you feel that your child is in-fact not reaching those talking milestones don’t delay – SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP! Early Speech intervention, knowing what the cause of the speech delay is and proactive parenting is the only thing that can help your child.  Waiting is not going to help! 

Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.