Our 3 year old is not talking. What should our next step be?
For many parents, speech delay is a real and growing concern. In the US alone, around 5% of children aged between 3-10 years old experience some degree of speech and language delay over a consistent period of time.
Tracking a child’s speech development
Tracking a child’s speech development is crucial in ensuring that children and their families receive help in supporting their child’s speech development and overcoming, where possible, any delay in this development.
All children develop their speech at different rates. In the same way that some infants walk early or late compared to a specified milestone, so speech development is also diverse in terms of the ages at which infants and children reach specific speech milestones.
What are the expected speech milestones for 3 years old?
By 3 years old, a child should be able to:
- Speak and use correctly anywhere from 800-1000 words. These words should include a mix of nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
- Combine several words, up to six at a time, to communicate a sentence verbally which can be understood by the person it is addressed to.
- Is able to use speech correctly in terms of what is grammatically correct. This includes understanding and using words in the past tense.
- Use speech that even someone who does not know the child well can understand.
- Uses speech to recall past events or from memory.
- Uses their speech to verbalize questions, including the use of ‘why,’ and ‘what.’
- Respond confidently and verbally to questions put to them.
What should you do if your 3 years old is not talking and not meeting these expected speech milestones?
First of all, it is important to understand how and when your child’s speech development, or lack of, might warrant cause for concern.
By 3 years old, the following may trigger a further investigation to understand the reason for their speech delay:
- Has limited words and speech.
- Is not able to combine words to form a sentence that makes sense.
- Still uses grammatically incorrect words and figures of speech when communicating.
- If their speech is not understood by those, who are not familiar with the child.
- If they also show any signs of delay in other development areas, including their physical, cognitive, and social skills development. Often serious delay in one area of a child’s development might be accompanied by a delay in another area as well.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and any concerns you may have about your 3 years old’s speech are likely to be incredibly valid.
Flagging the concern about your child’s speech development
Start by flagging your concerns with your child’s primary health care provider or pediatrician. They will be able to validate your concerns and make recommendations for how to proceed with further investigation of the extent and potential causes of the delay.
Swift intervention is crucial in helping children, and their families manage a speech delay and ensure positive outcomes for the child long term. For this reason, it is important that parents raise any concerns with their child’s development as quickly as possible.
Sometimes speech delay, at any age, may be a sign or symptom of a rare disease. If a rare disease is suspected as the cause of a speech delay, or indeed a delay in any area of a child’s development, then parents will be pointed towards the option of genetic counseling and potentially genetic analysis too. Currently, there are new options for parents looking to directly explore their child’s potential symptoms and features, including fast and accurate online tools for genetic analysis that allow parents to take control of their child’s genetic health.