Q&A: Toddler Understands But Does Not Talk

CME WebsitesChild Development, Toddlers 12 - 36 Months

blockquote_bgMy daughter is going to turn 21 months in 2 weeks and I’m a little concerned with her talking. She doesn’t talk. She is VERY smart; she knows exactly what you are talking about; she’ll follow simple and not so simple instructions, but she doesn’t talk! Even when she tries to talk like “ball,” she’ll say “ba” but only if we ASK her to say ball. If we ask her to say “please,” she’ll sign it right away but she’ll say “Pa” and that’s it. She won’t say her vowels but she’s great with “b’s.” Her first word was “buy buy”. She’ll say momma and dadda but only if we ask her to. She’s had her hearing checked and she has passed both tests. She is VERY soft spoken unless she screams when getting tickled. Is there any cause for concern? My mom said it might be her throat… since it always sounds like she has lost her voice when she tries to say words. But I’m just not sure. What you do think?


Does a Toddler That Understands But Doesn’t Talk Need Early Intervention Help?

First, I am glad you had your daughter’s hearing checked and that it is within normal limits. We always recommend hearing tests to be sure that a child’s hearing is not having an impact on speech development. Since your daughter is almost 2, you can review typical speech milestones at this link.

If she consistently uses “ba” for the word “ball” and “pa” consistently for please at this point, that is ok. We call these word approximations, since we are not even beginning to look at articulation (or how clearly she pronounces words) of speech until age 3. However, since she does not seem to be using even 10 single words at this point and is not always consistently using the words she does have unless you prompt her to do so, I would definitely suggest seeking an early intervention speech evaluation for her, since it sounds like she will be eligible for speech therapy services. It is great that you have introduced signing to her, since this will help alleviate her frustration if she cannot verbally say a word.