Hi! I’m writing to you about my son who is 12 1/2 months old, 11 months adjusted (6 weeks premature). I’ve been getting concerned because I feel that he may be behind in some developmental areas. He doesn’t have any true words, yet. He babbles Mamama/dadadada/nananana/lalalalala/babababa etc. I notice that most of the time when he is babbling he’s not really “talking” to any of us – he’s pretty much just babbling to nobody. His tone does change when he’s babbling, but it never sounds like he’s asking a question. To be fair he did start babbling a littler later maybe 8/9/10 months when he really turned it on. My other concern is receptive language. All I keep reading is that by 12 months they should understand most things that are said to them. Well, my son doesn’t. I know he understands some key words like teddy (the dog), balloon, up, I *think* the word no (can’t be sure as he listens when he wants to), his name, look and baba (bottle). I suppose he could know more and I’m just not aware of it or he doesn’t show that he knows. I’m not as concerned with the expressive language as I am with receptive. Thank you for reading and for any of your thoughts!


Thank you for your question. Let me start by saying that we know that the first 3 years is the most intensive for acquiring speech and language skills, and it is important for parents to seek advice about any concerns they may have. During the early development of speech and language, there is a “typical” progression in the development of skills, and it sounds as if you have already researched some of these “milestones”. Please be aware that it can be quite common for children not to reach all of these milestones at the same rate and in the same order.

Following is a brief list of some common communication behaviors seen in children between 7 months and 1 year:

  • Enjoys games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake
  • Turns and looks in direction of sounds
  • Listens when spoken to
  • Recognizes words for common items like “cup”, “shoe”, “book”, or “juice”
  • Begins to respond to requests like “Come here” or “Want more?”
  • Babbles with both long and short groups of sounds such as “tata upup bibibibi”
  • Uses speech or non-crying sounds to get and keep attention
  • Uses gestures to communicate (waving, raising arms to be picked up)
  • Imitates different speech sounds
  • Uses one or two words (hi, dog, dada, mama) around first birthday- although sounds may not be clear

My first recommendation is to discuss all of your concerns with your child’s pediatrician or health care provider and seek his/her advice. You mentioned that you have concerns about delays in “some developmental areas”. Are your concerns only related to speech and language or do you also have concerns about other developmental areas such as physical health, motor development, social/emotional skills, or cognitive skills? Your child’s doctor can refer you to the appropriate professional if other evaluations are needed, but also be sure that your son has had his hearing tested recently to rule out any hearing difficulties.

From your brief description, I would say that your son’s speech and language is probably developing generally within normal limits. However, a complete speech-language evaluation with extensive history information, observations, and assessment is the best way to determine an accurate diagnosis. Your pediatrician may refer you to an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist or you may find one in your area by visiting: http://www.asha.org/findpro/.

Although I’m not sure where you live, please be aware that every state also has an early intervention program serving eligible families with children from birth to their third birthday. In S.C. if you think your infant or toddler is developing or learning slowly, call BabyNet at 1-877-621-0865 or visit http://www.scfirststeps.org/BabyNet.html. BabyNet is an educational program administered by FirstSteps, that helps an infant or toddler with special needs move toward his/her full potential. 

In the meantime, here are some things every parent can do to encourage speech and language development: Check your child’s ability to hear. Pay special attention to ear problems and infections, especially when they occur frequently.Reinforce your baby’s communication attempts by looking at him, speaking, and imitating his vocalizations. Repeat his laughter and facial expressions. Respond to his vocalizations (i.e. if he says “mama”, you could respond with “mama, yes, mama’s home”). Provide a language rich environment by talking about your daily routines throughout the day in simple language (2-3 words at a time). This may help to build receptive language skills. Use lots of speech/routine games such as “pattycake”, “itsy bitsy spider”, waving “bye-bye” and singing. Frequently read simple, age-appropriate books to your child. Use lots of intonation and gestures when you are interacting with your child. “Watch” as well as listen to your child’s responses, and respond to all intentional communication both nonverbal and verbal (a smile, movement, vocal attempt, or actual word).

Thank you again for your question, and I hope this information is helpful. Please let us know if you have any other questions and keep us informed of your son’s progress.