18 month speech delay

This post is hard to write.
As I write this, I've rewritten the title and introduction about 10 times. Very unlike my blogging style. Normally I just sit down and write. Normally I'm not writing about things that truly scare me. Guess that accounts for the discrepancy.

Our beautiful Lily is 18 months old and doesn't yet have a single word in her vocabulary. Not even Mama or Dada. She doesn't repeat words that we say. She doesn't address things or people with names. She just babbles her little heart out. She's not quiet by any stretch. She's not shy in the least. She is not timid. And she is very bright. I know, I'm her mom so it probably seems like I have to say that, but she really is. She learns quickly. She's inquisitive and interested and bold. Which is why we're beginning to be worried that she isn't talking.

The worrisome facts are that at 18 months, babies should have at least 20 words, and up to 50. They should be putting two words together, if not three.  At 15 months, it's recommended that if a baby does not have a single word, they are referred for a hearing test and/or to a speech pathologist. 50% of babies who are not talking at 15 months are simply "late talkers", while the other 50% often have hearing or speech issues or other medical reasons for the delay.

I want to be clear - we are champions for letting kids grow and learn at their own pace. We aim to not worry if our kids miss a milestone by a couple of weeks or even months. And we really try our hardest not to compare our kids with their peers. We didn't bat an eye when Lily wasn't walking at 12 months like some of her friends. She was scooting - getting around - and we assumed (correctly) that she's walk when she was ready. At 15 months she did and now she runs around the house. 

While some have suggested we take the same approach with Lily's speech, we see this issue differently. Many of the non-medical reasons for language delay don't apply to Lily, such as her demeanor and gender (shy kids and boys may speak later than bold kids and girls). She's also not exposed consistently to two languages (she'll learn French soon, but at home we only speak English right now), which can contribute to language delay. So with that and the encouragement from a speech pathologist and family doctor (both of whom we're so blessed to be friends with and have easy access to!), we had her hearing checked today.

I was skeptical because Lily listens to us and responds to noise all the time. We've never had reason to believe her hearing was problematic, but still, we were eager to have her tested. We could have the test done for free and wait two weeks for an appointment, or go with a private clinic, pay $110, and have the tests done the next day. We chose to go private this time, and Lily's test was done this afternoon. Her results show that she has either no hearing problems whatsoever, or a very mild hearing problem (that would have been undetected). We're doing a follow-up test in two months, but they were very positive that she has no hearing problems. So now what? 

On the one hand, we're very relieved. Praise God our daughter is not hard of hearing or deaf! That would be life altering for our whole family, and I would never wish that for my daughter. 
Could we survive it? Absolutely. 
Would God still be good if Lily was deaf? Absolutely. 
Am I glad she isn't? Absolutely. 

On the other hand though, we're still left with a lot of questions. Our next step is to meet with a speech pathologist who will observe Lily and give Brad and I some exercises to do with her. Signing is one thing I wasn't planning on doing with my kids, but it was recommended already by our speech path, so I've been surfing YouTube and teaching Lily a couple of signs. She learned them so quickly and already uses them consistently. I'm so proud of her.

What about you? Do you sign with your kids? Have you worried about speech delay in your own kids? Have you been in this situation? Any advice or stories from experience are more than welcome :)


  1. Every child is so different and I have learned through all three of mine( 2 now talking)
    *E who is now 3.5 we started signing through baby sign classes at 5 months, and she excelled in signing and spoke very early and picked up a large vocabulary as an early age, she is also very strong willed and walked at 10 months.

    *N on the other hand our little boy did not walk until 15 months and did not even have a couple words until he was 18 months, and now at 24 months he finally is putting two words together we also got his hearing tested and are assured it just times time and encouragement. He listens and takes direction well( when we ask him to do a task he happily does it and can understand the language, but he is a babbler too and loves to be social but just hasn't gotten "there" vocabulary wise. Also I have heard that when you add another sibling in it does tend to "start over" the process of learning and expression, so that could be a factor as well, we certainly have experienced that in our case.

    Take heart Em and Brad, I will be praying for you!
    Love amanda

    1. N sounds like Lily, and would be the best case scenario result of all this :)

      Amanda, was N affected when your 3rd came along? Did you take any measures or did he get to where he is now by patience and encouragement? Did you sign with N?

      Thank you for your prayers, you are so sweet :)

  2. (((HUGS))) Parenting is so hard! Having 4 kids, it sometimes makes it easier to see that the norms widely vary from child to child, but it can also make it impossible not to compare. Charlie (#1) was a super early talker and he did it non-stop. Henry (#2) on the other hand, was a very late talker. I can't recall how many words at what age, but I do know that when he started preschool at age 3, he wasn't saying a whole lot. It didn't take him long to catch up. And he is fine now.

    I have no problems getting help when needed (Louie #4) is in speech right now at age 3 because he was having trouble with a lot of sounds and dropping the ends of words. He is making huge strides and I am glad we got him started early.

    All that said, my gut says that Lily is totally fine, but since she isn't saying any words I wouldn't hesitate to get her in. I did sign with all of my kiddos and I LOVED it! I really helped them express themselves and what they wanted/needed before they could verbalize it. I was so amazed at how quickly they picked up on it. Good luck!!! ~Jess

  3. What a great relief that she has no hearing problems! I would want to know right away once the concern was voiced too!

    I am intrigued as to why the speech path recommended signing. I know signing is the new big thing to do with babies/toddlers. I actually have a couple of people that have almost sounded like they were looking down on me for not teaching sign to Hannah. My personal theory (not well researched mind you) is that if a child learns to communicate through sign what is the need for them to speak? For example, for Hannah her goal was always to figure out how to move faster, how to crawl, how crawling with one leg straighter could make her faster, then walking along things, than full out walking. I feel like because she saw us going faster, she knew there was a better way to move so she was pushed to learn to walk.

    My reservation with teaching her signing was that the motivation to speak would be gone. If I taught her to sign thank you or more food or please, she could get me to respond exactly how she wanted and get the results exactly how she wanted easily without a need to speak like we do. Again that's totally my theory and I'm not a speech path so thats why I'm interested in why she suggested signing would help Lily to speak. I know it has worked for others, and I know I don't know it all so I am for sure interested!

    Also praying you continue to see progress as you learn the exercises and help Lily. She has good parents!

    1. Hmm I'm definitely not a parent, and so I have no suggestions, but having studied neuro, and doing some developmental neuro courses in university, I'd guess that the speech pathologist probably also suggested signing because it exercises the same areas in the brain (broca's and wernicke's area), in the same way that speaking and hearing do. So, if Lily can consistently learn how to sign, that would show that the disconnect would be somewhere else. Signing is generally good for children, because sometimes the physical "ability" to speak takes longer to develop than actual communication. Our brains are designed for language and speech is just one way we've learned to communicate. But ASL and other types of sign language engage the brain in the same way, so signing effectively, like Emily said would show that Lily doesn't have deficiencies in those areas in the brain.

    2. That makes sense. Thanks for the reply.

  4. Thanks ladies. It helps to hear of various examples of kids learning at their own pace, but also the successes of early intervention with speech therapy.

    Rach - the speech path recommends signing to insure that the baby can understand communication concepts. Lily does her own thing that we "get" which helps us know what she needs (pointing, bringing things to us (bibs, food, books), and grunting and babbling), but can she connect communicating with words. signing helps insure that. So far so good, which crosses another off our "list" but doesn't bring us any closer to a conclusion. You're right, often kids who sign learn speech a little later, which was one reason I wasn't keen on it, but looks like we need to in this case.

    Lily is great at obeying commands (Lily, get Monkey, Lily, where's your eye/nose/mouth/ear/cheek/arm/hand, etc) but when she wants to communicate, usually she just points or grunts, so signing may help her connect the dots. We'll see, so far she's "mastered" the sign for "More", but I havent taught her much else yet.

    1. That does make sense its all connected and great for you to know that she does get it and is able to communicate well so far! Praying you keep seeing her progress in this area! Watch her someday be a public speaker or something and you can tell her about how when she was little you were worried about her in this area!

  5. Thanks for that information, Lydia, I too wondered if signing would slow our kids down (the theory that if they could sign they wouldn't need to talk) but knowing that it might actually help makes me want to do more. Right now they can do "more" very consistently, "all done" and just recently they FINALLY started signing potty when they poop in their diaper! That one amazed me as I thought I was wasting my time but hoped it might actually help with potty training someday. I've also tried "potato" for their favourite tv show but it's not an easy sign for a 16 month old (requires using two fingers and poking the back of a closed fist like a fork in a potato) but so far they just go with "more". :)

    I found signing to be discouraging when they were younger, so many other moms seemed to have young babies signing their hearts out, so I quit. But around 1 years old they started mimicking so I tried again, this time with success. Especially S has started to get frustrated at his lack of ability to make himself understood so I think after this thread I'm going to step it up with some more signs. I'd especially like to try some for more specific food-related needs like drink, banana, snack, etc. And maybe some manners like thank you while we're at it. :)

  6. Oh I should also say that living with two toddlers makes me less concerned about them talking a bit later and more eager to stop the frustration now! It's fine with me if signing slows them a bit if in the mean time there aren't as many whines, breakdowns, tears and yelling! :) I don't care if they draw me a dang picture, I just want to know what they want, and they want me to know too haha!

  7. The little boy I nanny said Mama and mmhmm (as in yes) by his second birthday. He shook his head yes and no and sometimes signed please. He babbled like no other- and would try so hard to tell us things but all that came out was a jumble of words. I was with him all day so I worked a lot with him to have him repeat words and most of the time it was "zzzzhh zhhh". I would go through individual sounds in the alphabet and he'd repeat almost every sound (there were a few- k, m, ch, t- that he couldn't repeat and still has a hard time with. Two weeks after his 2nd birthday he started talking. He would just try saying words like he had before but the actual word would come out. He probably said 25 new words each day. He is now 20 months and his vocabulary is almost age-appropriate. He says full sentences and asks questions and repeats anything you ask him to. This isn't much of an advice comment as it is an "I've been there and it all turned out okay" comment. Hang in there. Talk to her all day every day. When she motions for something, repeat what it is she is requesting, "You want the book" or "You must want more spaghetti" or "You must be frustrated that I don't know what you're wanting. Can you show me?" Also, sit down face to face and make a game of repeating. Have her watch how you move your mouth. Slowly make sounds and encourage her to do the same-- Ooooh and Eeeee and Lllll, etc. Long and exaggerated so she really sees how you're moving your mouth and tongue. I think that helped my nanny boy. Best of luck! I'll be looking forward to reading about her progress on here.

    1. thank you Jackie! thats great advice and encouragement :)

  8. We started signing with Coral when she was around five months. At first because she was so little I wouldn't actually sit down and work on signing with her, but I would sign as I sang songs, or read books to her, or just as I was talking to her about things. It actually surprised me how quickly she caught on and at such a young age she could communicate with us. We also have the baby einstein signing movie and I would put it on for her while I was making supper and she could sit and copy the signs that they we're doing. It didn't slow her speech at all, in fact in my opinion it really helped her. When she would sign something, like more, I would always ask her to try to say more at the same time. As soon as she figured out how to actually say something,she would stop doing the sign for it. Coral also LOVES flash cards, and they have really helped with her language (got them from the good old dollar store). But, I do know from working in day care that language varys so much from child to child. I had some two year olds that spoke in full sentences no problem, and I had three year olds who still just grunted and whined for what they wanted. So glad to hear that her hearing is good though, praise the Lord!

  9. Glad to hear that Lilly's hearing is OK. Excited to hear how you get along with sign language. We have had a lot of success with signing with Sebby and in my opinion, it hasn't slowed him down in terms of catching on to speech. One he masters the word, he refuses to do the sign and only uses the word. I consistently sign bird but he will not sign it because he can say the word bird very clearly. Same with dog, mama, daddy, he won't sign those things even though he has seen the signs a lot.

    I think he is aware that he is still in the process of mastering the pronunciation of some words and in these cases,
    He sometimes signs & attempts to say words at the same time, he will do the sign for grape & says "bape" or do the sign for up and say "uppa".

    We downloaded some videos from a woman who runs an online company called "My Smart Hands" & I would recommend her stuff. She also runs online courses. I like that she does signs with her little girl and she explains a helpful amount of background info on sign language.

    1. Oops. My phone messed up before I finished posting so to conclude.

      We mostly focus on signs related to food & animals, things that he is interested in. We sign along as we eat, sing or read books. I find it a lot of fun because I am also having an opportunity to learn new things as I look up new signs every few days. I also enjoy it because its an easy way for me to do educational activities with S, when he has a bath, I hold up his Noah's ark animals and ask what each of their names are then he signs them. Same when we read books or look at flash cards.

      Anyways, hope you enjoy the process and that it is helpful to Lilly in terms of her growth in communication.

  10. We have many children with speech delays or disorder, where I started working ( it is a "Centre de Stimulation")- so stimulation them to talk is one of the things we do. At first, I was skeptical about the "signing" part as well. But it encourages the child to communicate, which is what we wanna do. I've been told that "words" are "easier" for children, so whenever the child has what he/she needs to use words he/she will use them. I haven't witnessed the latter sentence because I haven't been at the center for long enough yet, but I'm pretty sure they know what they're talking about. Anyways, keep us posted !

  11. "The worrisome facts are that at 18 months, babies should have at least 20 words, and up to 50. They should be putting two words together, if not three."

    Yikes! Matthew's 21months old and has 4 words (mama, dada, woof, 'ish for fish). He doesn't put any of them together. We've wondered about a hearing problem with him until we realized that he CAN hear because he's able to follow directions and point to things we ask him to (even odd things we haven't taught him he's picked it up somewhere). He babbles a lot but bless me I have no idea what he's saying. I think if by 2 years old there's no changes I'll book an appointment with our dr to get it checked out.

    As for signing... we signed with him since he was 5 months old... he signed back milk until I weaned him... and now he doesn't sign anything even though we consistently sign with him. I would LOVE it if he would start signing - life would be less frustrating if he could sign what he wants.

    After reading some of the responses I think I'm going to get some flashcards for M and see how that goes :)

    Matthew has always been a late bloomer... he only started walking when he turned 18months. I guess he moves through life at his own pace.

    1. I continually hear stories of kids that started talking up a storm at their second birthday, so that could be Matthew (and Lily!) but the speech path and doctor we consulted both agreed that babies "should" have 20 words at least by 18 months, so maybe a hearing test is a good idea.

      At first I didn't think it would help because, like Matthew, Lily obeys us and seems to understand us - but there's more to hearing problems than just understanding some commands. There are tones and frequencies that some kids can't hear that make picking up language more difficult. So while I didn't think Lily had hearing problems, having her tested gave me a lot of peace since now we know that's definitely not the problem. Crossing one thing off the list feels good!

    2. Interesting... a guess a hearing test will be in the plans for us too then.

  12. Anonymous5.3.12

    Both my linguistics and neuroanatomy study could be handy here! Some general ideas:

    Does Lily sing along with you? Interesting and bizarrely, different parts of the brain produce language for speech (left hemisphere) and for singing (right hemisphere), and there are many cases of people not producing (or not yet producing) speech for varying reasons, but instead able to "talk" by singing.

    Also, if she understands your speech, and can produce phonetics easily (babbling), then it is extremely likely to be just a matter of time. Especially as the signing was/is quickly adopted, showing that her understanding of syntax and semantics is happily healthy and developed.

    Also, greetings to your family and I love reading your blog every once in a while! Great thoughts. And, continued prayer for you and Brad (and Lily/Oli) as you decipher adoption in the nearish future!

    -Jenny Nasmith

    1. Thanks Jenny!
      No, Lily doesn't sing WITH me in the sense that she sings the words, but she sings and babbles in her own language... "la la la la la!" comes to mind. Is that what you mean?
      And yes, she babbles and reads to herself constantly, so that's encouraging that it may just take more time.
      We're meeting with a speech path next week at some point, so hopefully some more exercises will come from that for us to work with her :)

  13. Anonymous8.3.12

    I was thinking more singing lyrics specifically, rather than just sounds, but the fact that she definitely babbles and (I imagine) has a variety of syllables, etc, is promising for sure! I'll be praying that the speech pathologist appointment is fruitful in both answering questions and giving reassurance about your little lady's linguistics!


  14. My daughter is 17.5 months and we taught her the signs for hungry and thirsty a few months ago. I found that as soon as we taught her the signs (we would sign and say the word) she started to try to say the words almost right away.