My son just turned one and he is not yet using meaningful words. I felt completely comfortable with this… until he had his 12-month check-up. The pediatrician asked, “Does he have any words?” No. “He’s not saying mama or dada?” No. “What about ‘uh-oh’? That counts as a word, ya know.” Well, round-of-applause for uh-oh’s new status, but guess what? I don’t even use that word so I certainly can’t expect my son to use it. The pediatrician made a face. The kind of face your friend without any children makes when you nonchalantly tell her, “Nah, I’m not hungry. I ate the food my son spit out at dinner. I’ll just get a drink.”
Despite being a speech-language pathologist with expertise in language development and years of experience evaluating children under the age of 3, I left the pediatrician’s office with a sudden sense of concern.
The rate at which a baby grows and learns is remarkable. Fascinating. Down-right unbelievable. But it’s easy to feel pressure when your friends are asking if your child has met the next big milestone, your doctor is giving you developmental questionnaires and you read about norms. What’s normal anyway? Turns out there is a big range of “normal” and sometimes babies don’t use words until almost 18 months of age.
While first words are expected around 12 months of age, considering all of your baby’s language skills are important (and might keep you from driving yourself crazy or Google-ing until your fingers go numb). According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association, there are several communicative skills to look for by the time a baby reaches 12 months.
As far as receptive language – or what we understand – a baby should be doing the following:
- Playing peek-a-boo
- Turning towards the direction of sounds
- Recognizing common words like “bottle” or “book”
- Beginning to respond to simple requests like “come here”
Expressively – or language output - a 12-month-old should be:Babbling long and short strings
- Using speech or non-crying sounds to get attention
- Using gestures (e.g. waving, holding arms up to be picked up)
- Imitating different speech sounds
It is important that we see our children as a whole and consider all of the skills they have learned rather than focusing on one specific milestone that they haven’t yet reached. Think of all the ways your baby does communicate. Applaud your baby for her success in other developmental domains, like gross motor movement and feeding skills. Be proud of your kid for just being so damn fun to be around.
I trust that my son will start talking when he is ready. Someday he will amaze me with his first words. Just like he amazed me with his early pincer grasp. Or when he one day decided to start walking. But until then, I will continue to celebrate his accomplishments, like offering me bites of his food before he even puts them in his mouth – now, that’s a good dinner.
About the Author
Jac Baxendale is a Speech Language Pathologist, avid yogi and home renovator. She lives with her husband and their 1-year-old son on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.