What To Expect: Your Child’s Communication Development


Hearing, Speech, and Language Milestones for Children Birth to 5 Years

When do most babies start to coo? How about smile, or giggle and laugh? Long before most babies speak their first word, they are communicating their wants, needs, and feelings with you. Cooing, smiling, and giggling are examples of early communication milestones.

Developmental milestones are behaviors or skills that are typical within an age range. These milestones provide parents and caregivers with a roadmap of what to expect during their child’s early years of life. They can help families feel comfortable and confident about their child’s development at each stage. Milestones can also alert parents and caregivers to the early signs of a potential developmental delay or disorder.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recently published new communication milestones for children ages birth to 5 years. These milestones provide the age ranges when a majority (75%) of children demonstrate particular skills. Parents should keep in mind that each child develops differently, even within the same family. Skills develop over time—not on a child’s exact birthday. This is why ASHA’s milestones have ranges (e.g., “7 to 9 months” rather than “at 7 months”). 

What are some more examples of communication milestones?

Below are some examples of milestones you should expect your child to demonstrate by age: 

  • Quiets or smiles when you talk (birth to 3 months).
  • Vocalizes different vowel sounds—sometimes combined with a consonant—like uuuuuummm, aaaaaaagoo, or daaaaaaaaaa (4 to 6 months).
  • Babbles long strings of sounds, like mamamama, upup, or babababa (7 to 9 months).
  • Points, waves, and shows or gives objects (10 to 12 months).
  • Follows directions—like “Give me the ball,” “Hug the teddy bear,” “Come here,” or “Show me your nose” (13 to 18 months).
  • Puts two or more words together—like “more water” or “go outside” (19 to 24 months).
  • Says their name when asked (2 to 3 years).
  • Tells you a story from a book or a video (3 to 4 years).
  • Recognizes and names 10 or more letters and can usually write their own name (4 to 5 years).

Full checklists of milestones by age are available on ASHA’s Developmental Milestones webpage.

Should I be concerned if my child isn’t meeting these communication milestones?

If a child isn’t meeting one milestone in an age range, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the child needs an evaluation.

However, if a child lacks several skills, is not learning new skills, or is losing skills that they once had, then ASHA encourages families to consult their pediatrician and visit an ASHA-certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist. Audiologists are professionals who diagnose and treat hearing and balance disorders. Speech-language pathologists work with people who have problems with speech, language, thinking, and swallowing.

Audiologists and speech-language pathologists can help a child develop and improve their communication skills. Strong communication skills are the foundation for future reading and writing success as well as for school readiness. Communication skills can also affect a child’s behavior and social success with friends.

The earlier a child gets help for a potential developmental delay or disorder, the better. Although professional help is valuable at any age, the ideal time window is during the brief period of life when the brain is most flexible (birth to 3 years). By 3 years of age, 80% of a child’s brain development is complete. That’s why it’s important to get an evaluation early if you have any concerns.

If a child receives an evaluation, this doesn’t automatically mean that they’ll need intervention or treatment. In many cases, families will learn that their child’s development is on track. Having this confirmation can help end unnecessary stress. However, if a child is found to have a delay or disorder, families can learn more about their options and set their child on a path to success. Intervention is not one-size-fits-all, and the approach is always driven by a family’s preferences.

How can I encourage my child’s communication development at home?

You are your child’s first and most important teacher! Here are some ways to encourage your child’s communication skills during everyday life:

  • Talk about what you’re doing, what your child is doing, and what your child sees. Use longer sentences as your child grows older.
  • Communicate with your child in the languages that you are most comfortable using.
  • Use a lot of different words with your child. Don’t worry about using big words. Children enjoy new and unusual words.
  • Help your child listen. Give directions for your child to follow.
  • Have your child’s hearing tested if you find yourself repeating a lot or using a loud voice.
  • Tell stories to your child—a lot!
  • Read to your child as much as you can.
  • Ask questions and talk about what happened in the story. Read to your child in the languages they are learning.
  • Don’t interrupt your child to correct their speech sounds. It’s okay if your child makes some mistakes with sounds. Say the sounds correctly when you talk.
  • Ask questions that need more than a yes or no answer. Encourage your child to ask you questions.

Where can I find more information?

Visit ASHA’s Developmental Milestones webpage for complete checklists of communication milestones between birth and 5 years. The Learn the Signs, Act Early campaign from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers resources on developmental milestones, including photos and videos of developmental milestones in action.

To connect with help, you can search for your state’s Early Intervention program to schedule an evaluation. A searchable database of audiologists and speech-language pathologists nationwide is available at www.asha.org/profind.

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