Subtle developmental clues

A post from Day: “Dr Roy, what is considered “normal range” for a one year old’s speaking ability? My 13 month old doesn’t speak yet and this concerns me. He might babble “gagaga” but it has no meaning. I stay at home with him and every day I try to teach him words such as momma, daddy, bye bye, cat etc and he isnt learning to say them. His pediatrician told me this would be something we would address at 15 months(my pediatrician was not worried at all that he wasn’t speaking) but as a mom who sees other 12 month old’s ability I am worried. Also, he 100% understands what I am saying. I can say simple commands such at ‘lets eat’ and he knows to go to his high chair so I know he understands me. Thank you!”

From my point of view, how many words a 13 month old is using really isn’t a useful marker of how well the child is developing. Some normal 13 month olds have 4 words, some fewer; some have no words at all. There’s a lot of variability there, and concentrating on word count at this age can create a lot of unnecessary worry.

A neurologically normal 13 month old should do all or almost all of these things:

  • Follow simple directions.
  • Use gestures like waving or nodding.
  • Point to things he wants, or point to things he wants you to look at.
  • Look at things you point at.
  • Bring things to show you.
  • Show off—that is, do cute things, then look to make sure you’re paying attention.
  • Combine sounds with a melodic quality, similar to speech. Even if words don’t make sense, the overall “sound” of his babbling should sound like a monologue, with pitch and speed changes and pauses.

The easiest “milestones” to talk about and compare between children are things like when they start walking, or how many words they say at a certain age. However, the subtle things like the ones I’ve listed are far more important, and offer far more insight into how a child is developing.

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