Episode 21: My Opinion about Why Your 2, 3 or 4 Year Old is not Talking

This is a popular question that I get asked a lot. Why is my 2 year old, 3 year old or 4 year old not talking? Each time am asked this question, I can understand a parent’s desperation to find out what could be causing their child’s speech and language delay? But I also without evaluating the child, find it very difficult to say specifically what could be making their child not achieve this relatively easy milestone. And yes, easy is relative. I have to start by saying that there are many factors that can cause your child to not develop their speech and language skills at the expected times.  “And which are these expected times you may ask?”.

At 12-15 months, we expect that your child should have between 3-5 words. 

At 18 months, we expect your child to have between 25- 50 words. 

At 2 years, we expect your child to have between 200-300 words. 

At 3 years, your child should have 1,000 words.

At 4 years, your child should have over 1,500 words. 

The reasons why your 2, 3 or 4 year old has a speech and language delay

1. Birth trauma

A majority of children I see at my speech therapy clinic that are delayed in their speech and language skills have had some kind of birth trauma. Birth trauma could be a result of prolonged labour, obstructed labour resulting to an emergency c-section or any other kind of difficulty during the delivery or the labouring process. Often, babies whose mothers have experienced difficulties during the delivery or labouring process may fail to cry right away or end up needing to be attended to, or to be given oxygen or to be put in an incubator or nursery. . 

Some good indicators of birth trauma are i) prolonged labour, ii) obstructed labour or iii) the foetus was in some kind of distress. The apgar score is a good indicator of birth trauma. The apgar score is a score that the doctor gives the baby at 1 minute after delivery and at 5 minutes after delivery. Please visit this post to learn more about the apgar score. 

Birth trauma can cause a myriad of issues and if a child has had a traumatic entry to life, they might have a delay in achieving some of their milestones. 

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2. Global developmental delays

The second red flag for your child not having achieved their speech and language milestones is that they have what is now referred to as global developmental delays. It means that all their milestones; the motorical ones, like holding up their neck, sitting up and walking have all been delayed and if these milestones have been delayed then we expect that even their talking will be delayed. 

A number of factors including birth trauma could lead to global development delays. 

This is why your 2 year old has a speech and language delay

3. Frequent ear infections or medical issues

Frequent hospitalisation or colds, flus and ear infections could be a contributor of your child’s speech and language delay.. 

Now please note that not all children complain of ear infections but if your child is always getting flus or always having a running nose, having difficulty breathing or is a noisy sleeper, that could point to the possibility that they might have or might be retaining fluids in the ear. 

Chronic or fluid issues, mean that your child is not getting clear enough sound signal which could be impacting on their speech and language development

Overexposure to screens could be causing your child's speech and language delay

4. Your child’s environment as the cause of their speech and language delay

This is the last red flag or at least in my experience, what I find to be causing a child’s speech and language delay. By environment I mean: 

(i) The home environment, 

(ii) The type of quality of care-giving 

(iii) The caregivers that are looking after this child. 

A child who has been overexposed to screens is likely to have a speech and language delay. This child is also likely to be under-stimulated as not enough interaction is taking place while they sit staring at the screens.

Why your 2 year old has a speech and language delay

Final word

Please check out my blog post on 4 fool-proof tips to get your toddler talking. Also, please check out some of our other resources to learn more about some of the new topics this series may have raised for you.

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Hi, I'm your teacher

Lorna Muthamia-Ochido

I run a family-centred speech-language therapy clinic, the largest in East and Central Africa. I’ve helped 15,000+ children optimise their communication outcomes (in other words, I make children smarter ☺).

Get your child talking in no time.

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