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  • Post last modified:May 17, 2020

21-Month-Old Toddler Is Not Talking

Mom’s Question:

My 21-month-old toddler is not talking or trying to say any words, not even mama. Is this abnormal? I am really worried that something is wrong with him, because I think it is very late not to talk a at all at 21 months of age.

Please help,

Baby Helpline:

21-Month-Old Toddler is NOT Talking – Some Tips & Concerns

Typical Language and Speech Milestones

So your 21-month-old toddler is not talking at all. It is true that this is quite late. Looking at speech milestones, you find these averages:

Before 12 months – babies use their voices to communicate through for example cooing and babbling. They often put together “words” before their forst birthday (like mama), but might not really know what they’re saying.

They also start understanding the meaning of some words, and can for example look at the lamp when mom says “lamp”.

12-15 months – most babies start saying some actual words and can follow instructions, “point at the ball”.

18-24 months – Many toddlers can now say between 20 and 50 words. They start combining two words to make short sentences.

From 2 years – speech is improving quickly, with more words and longer sentences. Usually by about 2 years, toddlers are starting to learn about 10 – 20 new words per day and trying to repeat them. They are generally able to say few true words and phrases.

So, just as you say, not talking at all at at 21 months is late. But this doesn’t have to be a concern.

Signs of  speech delay that needs attention

You don’t mention if and how your son interacts. Does your little boy make noises and respond with noises? Does he follow simple commands and understand simple questions? Does he point pictures, when named in books? If he does, you should probably not be concern about the fact that he is not talking yet.

Take a look at these points. They are signs that you want to discuss your son’s development with his doctor:

  • By 12 months – He wasn’t  using gestures at all, such as pointing
  • By 18 months –Prefered gestures over vocalizations to communicate – that is he wasn’t using his voice to communicate (it could be just sounds, not words)
  • By 18 months – Had trouble imitating sounds – does he immitate sounds?
  • By 18 months – Couldn’t understand simple verbal requests, like looking at the ball when you say “where is the ball?”.

So you see, at 21 months, actually NOT saying words is not yet part of the warning signs that he needs help. However, by the age of 2, saying words spontanelousy is expected:

  • By 2 years: He still will not produce words or phrases spontaneously
  • By 2 years: Can’t follow simple directions

Remember that even if he doesn’t talk at all at 2 years, it doesn’t have to be a long-term problem. He might simply be late. My oldest son didn’t walk at 20 months. He was at a special check-up for this, but nothing was wrong with him. He just liked crawling!

So don’t worry too much, but also don’t wait with discussing with your son’s doctor. It can take some worrying off you chest and if your baby does need help – then sooner he gets support the better!

What can cause a speech delay

Sometimes placid babies that have lived in a very quiet environment without very much interaction take a little longer to start talking. Second or third babies tend to talk a little earlier as they have a lot more interaction and stimulation from older siblings.

A bilingual environment may also induce some delay in the onset of language.

Two more medical common reasons for speech delays is babies are a hearing impairment and oral-motor problems.

Does your son react to sounds in general? In suc case, his hearing is probably fine, but I would suggest to check with your public health nurse or doctor on this, just to discard the possibility that your son has a hearing problem. You can do a quick test at home by sneaking up behind him and make a scrunching noise with paper and see if he turns to that side to find the noise.

Oral-motor problems happen when there’s a problem in the areas of the brain responsible for speech, so they have difficulties coordinating their tounge, lips and so on. However, these children often have feeding problems too.

A third possibility is autism-related. Many autistic children have speech delays, but they also have a number of other developmental challenges. You can read about signs of autism in children here.

What you can to do stimulate his speech development

In addition to talking to his healthcare provider, there are a number of ways you can help your son with his speech development.

Remember that even if he isn’t talking, he is most likely absorbing a lot and understanding far more that you think. Some babies just sit and watch and absorb and do very little talking or trying to talk and then suddenly start chattering away by the time they are three.

The best you can do as his parent, is to just encourage him, by having lots of conversations with him, make eye contact and respond when he makes noises even if they don’t sound like anything. Talk about everything you see when you are round the house, or taking him for a walk.

Make sure you talk in adult talk, not baby talk. Gooing and Gahing at a baby is fun but doesn’t teach them language. Name things when you pass them to him, play games such as where’s your tummy? Where’s your toes? That will help with language development.

Some relatively new research (2017) also indicates that the more time children under 2 years old spend playing with smartphones, tablets and other handheld screens, the more likely they are to begin talking later.

For each 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, researchers found a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay. So limit screen time for your son too if you aren’t already!

I’m sure before you know it he will be asking endless “why?” questions and you will be wishing for some peace and quiet!

Wishing you Joy and good luck,
(Answer approved by our Medical Reference Team)

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This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Yudi Nadler

    I would also suggest speaking to the pediatrician about a referral to Early Intervention for an evaluation in addition to a formal hearing evaluation. A speech delay is just that – a delay- not a disability. The earlier a child can receive support the better – it is not therapy, but parent education.

  2. Ted

    My son does not talk either. He is going to be 21 months old on 26th of this month. He says papa when asked to say mama and say ‘wahish?’ means to say ‘what is this’, and jaji for daddy sometimes..(very rare). He points at almost everything correctly. He knows almost all the part of body. It still freaks me out because there are no real words yet!

  3. Lisa

    My 2 year old isn’t talking either, but when I read a book to her I ask, “What is so and so?” and she can point them out. I know she knows what I’m saying, and the objects around her.

  4. Raychill

    Hi, I can understand why you are worried! I think this is something to be concerned about as I have been through the same thing with my son – and it turned out he was Autistic…

    You need to look for other signs though. Does he respond when you call his name or does he tend to not respond as if he doesn’t hear you? Is he hypo? Does he have high tolerance to pain ??? So when he does something to himself that makes you go ouch!! Does he jus get up like that didn’t hurt an you just think gee my boys tough lol!

    Does he listen when you tell him no don’t touch! Or hop off of that ???

    Cause Autistic children don’t understand the concept of thing like a normal child. They understand actions more than words.

    When he see’s something he likes for example a plane – does he point and look at you as to say wow mum did you see that??? Cause Autistic kids don’t tend to share their experience’s.

    Don’t stress until you have tried all these things.

    Some children can be delayed but I would be concerned as he is very late to talk. Could be his ears, I would get them tested and if you have already had them done, I would get a second opinion.

    I went to many doctors who just laughed at me an told me he was normal until he was nearly three and wasn’t talking an then they did test and discovered I wasn’t overreacting.

    Good luck and if you need to ask me anything feel free to do so!

    1. Sharon mcfeely

      Hello can I ask u a few questions? My daughter is 21 months old and hasn’t said a word yet not mama or daddy, smtimes reacts wen u call her name but doesn’t take direction at all, always head butts things and turns lights on and off and smtimes flaps wen she gets excited, can you give me any advice plz?

      1. Paula @ EasyBabyLife

        Hi Sharon,
        I wanted to answer you even if you asked a fellow reader – who might also answer. :-)

        It’s so good that you react! Have you discussed your daughter’s behavior with her health nurse or a pediatrician? It does sound to me as if she has issues that should be checked. What do you think about her hearing – does she move to music, does she babble? She could have autism-related challenges or a hearing problem. I really think you have her assessed asap. No matter what problems she may have, early intervention is the best.

        Of course, she might just be a bit late, but from what you describe, I do think it could be something more.

        In addition to that, make sure to talk to her a lot, sing, play games and interact in lots of ways. This will help her development, and make both you and her happy! :-)

        Please let us know how things proceed!

  5. Sheila

    My 2 year is not saying much, only 15 words. He had a hearing test when he was 2 weeks old and they said he has slight problem. I didn’t go for further tests, because I knew he is fine. Now he can hear even quite noises. If I say can you get milk or ball etc…in a whisper.

    Because a seed has been planted I am still concerned back of my mind. I feel like going for another test but what’s the point all they will do is ask him to press button if or when he can hear something. He is only 2 so he isn’t going to act what they say. I live with him 24 hours so I know he can hear and he understand everything.

    I don’t know what to do can someone help….has anyone been through what I have been through?? Please help.

  6. Dee

    I am a very concerned grandma living in the UK. My kids are all grown up, but I have the most gorgeous little grandson a week and a half off his 2nd birthday who isn’t really talking.

    He kind of says mummy and daddy and he calls me ma ma and he can say nanna and narna for banana but that is it.

    He appears to be developing at a normal rate in all other areas. He responds when his name is called, he will bring anything you ask him to get. He answers all questions in his books by pointing and makes animal noises for all the animals, but apparently he does have days when he is very unhappy and cries and screams for ever, which drives my daughter to distraction. He has done that twice for me and there s really not a lot you can do with him when he is like that.

    If he wants something he always takes your hand and takes you to where the thing is that he wants and I’ve just read that that is a sign of autism.

    Also he can be aggressive to other smaller children by appearing to hug them but squeezing them tighter and tighter until they cry.
    He also starts of by stroking my cats, then he grins and pulls their fur and skin up in the air until he hurts them.

    He is an only much loved and much wanted child. He is looked after by me and his other grandc when his parents have to work. He is heavily involved in baby groupware and play groups and has busy stimulating days. His parents lives revolve around him but he can’t talk. He has had all his hearing tests. Also he sometimes nips or smacks adults in the face. When I say don’t smack grandma’s face he smacks his own and pretends to cry.

    1. CaliforniaGma

      I too have a grandson that has a lot in common with your grandson. My J.J. is 28 months old now and has been tested for hearing and it is great, but still he can’t talk.

      At about a year old he could say I Love you and the cats name (Byron) and of course Ma Ma and DaDa and we heard him yell, Awesome! Once. But that was it.

      We are now involved with a place called Far Northern, which helps children and they are going to help us and him to learn some communication skills.

      But what we don’t understand is what happened? Why isn’t he talking? He seems to know what we are saying, he will grab your hand or pull or push you to go where he wants you, to get him something, but won’t or can’t talk. Makes us wonder if any of the dozen or so baby shots he got has anything to do with it? He babbles and moves his head like he is talking to us, but we can’t understand him.

  7. Krissy

    Grandmas I understand your concern and truly know what your going thru I have 2 little boys completely different in every way from each other. My 4 yr old could say and recognize the alphabet count and recognize numbers to 10 and count down knew shapes colors everything they would teach him in kindergarten by 20 months old yet he is autistic. I have a 2 yr old who doesn’t speak except mum dad bubba he was a late Walker late crawler everything but he too is autistic.
    The thing is with autism is shows up in so many different ways. It is fascinating to see how different and unique my boys are. Some days I won’t lie are complete meltdowns. However they are brilliant and just can’t slow down to my level long enough to tell me why they are doing what they are doing and they don’t have time to answer my meaningless to them questions embrace all the uniqueness that comes with every child regardless if it is autism or not. Autism is not their disability it’s ours the average human can’t think as fast as they do or have the attention to detail they do is all.
    Other autism mom I’m sorry you have this experience but just to clarify one thing you said incorrectly both of my autisic boys share their wow moments and seek my reactions to things. Each child is different regardless of any medical issues.

  8. MD QuTub

    my sis.is 2.5 years..
    she only speak ,mom and dad..
    she hear everything and response all..