If a child is still babbling at 2 years old and has not started using words, it may be a sign of a speech delay. However, some babbling that accompanies words and gestures may be part of their typical development.

If a toddler understands words well for their age, uses multiple gestures, and is trying to use new words, it is more likely they will catch up with speech and language.

This article examines speech milestones, the causes of speech delays, and when to seek help.

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Babbling is an important part of speech development for babies and toddlers. Babbling refers to a stage of development when a child makes sounds, often stringing together and repeating sounds such as “um,” “da,” or “ma.”

Babbling allows a baby to get used to making sounds, using their mouth, and learning how to communicate. Over time, these sounds will begin to form into words and sentences.

A 2-year-old may babble somewhat as they are still learning how to string together words and form sentences. However, if a 2-year-old is babbling but has not started using words, it may signal a speech delay.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by the age of 2, most children will have reached certain milestones in language and communication, which include:

  • can string at least two words together
  • uses additional gestures other than waving or pointing
  • can point to at least two body parts if asked to

By the time they reach 2 years old, a child will usually be able to:

  • use lots of new words
  • use the letters b, h, m, p, and w in words
  • start naming pictures in books
  • ask questions such as “what’s that?”

However, these are just loose guidelines — all children develop speech and language at different rates. If a person is worried about a child’s development, it is best to contact a pediatrician.

Remaining calm, speaking with a toddler often, and not showing frustration at their abilities can help them develop their speech skills in a comfortable environment.

Some people may have heard that speech delays can signal autism. While this is true, not all speech delays are signs of autism and may just present as part of their typical development.

According to a 2021 article, children with autism will not usually meet speech milestones at the expected time, nor will they reach speech milestones with ease.

Parents or caregivers of children with autism often report a lack of spoken words before receiving a diagnosis.

If speech delays are due to autism, other symptoms may also be present.

Symptoms of autism typically develop by 12–18 months or earlier. These symptoms include:

  • difficulty making eye contact
  • not responding to their own name
  • difficulty following another person’s gaze or a pointed finger
  • difficulty with imitation or pretend play
  • difficulties with nonverbal communication

However, it is typical for toddlers to have some speech difficulties, and every child is different. Not all children will reach language milestones at the same time.

Other factors may also come into play, such as the child’s personality and whether or not they are learning multiple languages from birth.

It is best to avoid self-diagnosing a child and to raise any concerns with a pediatrician. It is important to follow the routine well-visit schedule the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) sets to monitor a child’s growth and development regularly.

Developmental language disorder (DLD) is one of the most common developmental disorders and affects how children use language, learn, and understand.

DLD occurs due to changes in brain development. They occur through a combination of genetic and environmental factors rather than any other conditions, such as autism, hearing loss, or a lack of exposure to hearing words spoken.

Symptoms of DLD in young children include:

  • reaching talking milestones later than other children their age
  • putting words together in sentences at a later age
  • difficulty learning new words and making conversation
  • difficulty following directions due to a lack of understanding

Other causes of speech delay in children may include:

  • childhood apraxia of speech, which is an issue with messages from the brain to the mouth, making it difficult for a child to move the muscles necessary for speech
  • dysarthria, which occurs due to brain or nerve damage, making it difficult to move the muscles involved in speech
  • hearing loss
  • selective mutism, in which a child will feel comfortable talking in some places or situations but not others

If people have concerns about a child’s development, they can speak to a healthcare professional.

A doctor may refer people to a speech and language specialist, who can evaluate a child for speech delays.

They may use speaking and hearing tests to check for any conditions that may be causing issues.

Depending on the results, they may suggest ways to support speech development at home. Alternatively, they may refer people for further evaluation by an audiologist or developmental psychologist.

A child with a developmental delay may be eligible for early intervention.

Early intervention is the term for support and services for young children and their families dealing with developmental delays or disabilities.

Early intervention may include speech therapy and other services to support individual needs. Early intervention programs may help children learn new skills, overcome challenges, and improve their likelihood of success in school and other areas.

Early intervention services are free or at a reduced cost. To find out if a child is eligible, people can contact their local program to ask for support. Individuals can search for a local program with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Children develop at different stages, but most will reduce babbling and start forming words around the age of 1 year.

If people think a child may have a speech delay, talking with a healthcare professional can help reassure them, find out if there is an underlying condition, and receive appropriate support and treatments.

If a child has autism, getting a diagnosis and support as early as possible is best. Interventions can help them develop communication and social skills to support them in school and life.

Children develop at different stages, but by the age of 2, they will usually be using lots of new words and joining at least two words together.

If people have concerns about a child’s speech development, they can speak to a healthcare professional about getting an evaluation.