The ‘first word’ is always one of the greatest milestones for both the child and the parents. It is highly anticipated by the parents because it is one of the first signs of their child’s speech development.

Children develop speech at different pace. There are some who learn to talk as early as 12 to 18 months while there are others who take longer time. While such cases are normal for young children, it is still prudent to be cautious of any sign that might lead to more serious problems in the future.

Here are some early signs of speech developmental delays to watch out for according to their ages:

0 to 12 months

  • The infant does not respond to any sound. Usually, babies cry when they are being startled by a loud sound. You can also observe responses in terms of body and eye movements when you talk to them. If you do not get any response from them to such sounds, then you may have to check on their hearing. Hearing is a very important component of speech development because children tend to imitate sounds that they hear. If they have difficulty in recognizing sounds, then it might be difficult for them to imitate.


  • The infant does not babble. Babies start to babble at around 4 to 6 months. They begin to utter sounds such as ‘ma-ma’ or ‘da-da’. If they do not start to make such sounds around this age, then they might have a speech delay or difficulty in producing speech.


  • The infant does not meet your gaze. Babies who do not keep eye contact with you when you are talking to them might have difficulty in recognizing sounds. They may appear to be inattentive and uninterested to their surroundings.


12 to 24 months

  • The infant is unable to say a single word. Children at this age should be able to say at least few common words.


  • The infant is unable to execute bodily gestures like pointing and waving. Children should be able to exhibit some form of awareness and be able to point at people and objects during this time. Difficulty in pointing to body parts such as head, arms or legs may be a sign of speech delay. Also, during this period, they should be able to wave and clap their hands.


  • The infant exhibits limited emotion. Normally, children during this age will start to show different types of emotion. They will begin to laugh, cry, be playful and get excited. On the other hand, children who are developmentally delayed will portray limited types of emotion. What is obvious is that, they will cry and whimper a lot and they usually appear to be uncomfortable.


24 to 36 months

  • The child is unable to say simple sentences. They would not be able to say simple sentences to express their feelings or their needs and wants. A child who is developing normally will be able to say simple phrases to express their emotions, needs and wants such as ‘want milk’, ‘don’t want’, ‘carry me’ etc.


  • The child has trouble in communicating and playing with other children. Children are more playful during this age and they love to be surrounded by other children. If the child seems to be distant or scared when surrounded by people or other children, he or she might be uncomfortable with something. Although these circumstances do normally happen, it is always better to be cautious especially when the behaviour becomes repetitive.


  • The child has problems in simple reading and writing. Even before entering pre-school, children during this age are able to recognize pictures and figures in books and draw simple curves and lines. Children who are experiencing delays usually pay no attention to these things.


Delays in a children development is normal. Some children may learn faster or slower than usual, but it is okay. Again, remember that children develop their own skills uniquely and at their own timing. If you ever experience or observe one or more signs listed above in your children, do not panic. There are always other ways to help them develop these skills. Talking and reading to them continuously as they grow is one great way to begin with. Lastly, if you ever have doubts, you can always consult your paediatrician or professionals that specializes in those areas of development.



American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). Early Identification of Speech, Language, and Hearing Disorders. Retrieved from

Gardephe, C. D. (2014). 5 Speech Development Warning Signs. Retrieved from

Logsdon, A. (2018, July 11). Signs of Speech and Language Delays in Infants and Toddlers. Retrieved from