Did she just say “nana”? Does that mean “banana,” “panda,” or “Grandma”? The first word your child utters, typically at around 12 months, will stop you in your tracks. But what if she's taking longer to speak than her peers are?
There's no need to panic: Speech delays are the most common of all developmental delays. Most late talkers will catch up by grade school, and a reassuring study from Australia found that this group didn't experience any greater risk of behavioral or emotional problems than their more verbose pals.
“More important than ‘late talking’ is your baby's ability to communicate in general,” says Jill Fussell, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at Arkansas Children's Hospital, in Little Rock. “If she's using many gestures, facial expressions, and pointing and vocalizing to express emotion and draw attention, then her late talking is likely no major cause for alarm just yet.” The best way to encourage speech: talk and read to your child yourself—a lot. Then, if she still hasn't said a single word by 18 months, start a conversation with your pediatrician, says Dr. Fussell. Early therapy can make a big difference (kids under 3 qualify for free federally funded services). Your doctor will also want to check for other possible issues, such as a hearing problem. For more signs of a language delay that warrants evaluation, go to the AAP site healthy children.org.
The what and when of typical tot talk:
12 to 15 Months Listen closely for that first word (dog, cup, mama)
15 to 18 Months You may now hear inflection, such as a raised tone when asking a question
18 Months He may speak just a few words but likely knows 50 (and is learning more daily)
18 to 24 Months Your child says 50 to 70 words and understands more than 200
25 to 36 Months Your child knows 300 words, and he's getting the hang of pronouns
Guide to Speech Delays