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.
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)
More About Toddler Development
- 15 months old says only a few words
- 1 year old never smiles, laughs or cries
- 15 month old yet not talking, laughing, walking
- 1 year 3 months baby not walking or talking
- How to Tell if Your Child is a Late Talker – And What to Do about It
- Delayed Speech or Language Development
- Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children
Do you have a 21-month-old toddler who isn’t talking? Add your comments below or return to Baby Development Q&A.