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Most children have learned to say at least one word by the time they're 12 months old, and it's unusual for a child to not be speaking at all by 18 months. But although it's not typical, your child's situation is not necessarily cause for great concern, either. Boys, especially those under 2, tend to develop language skills more slowly than girls, and some more cautious and reserved children tend to wait until they understand a great deal of what they hear before they actually speak.
Look for these signs of language readiness:
• Does your child point? Pointing to something he wants or to pictures in a book is closely related to the beginning of actual speech.
• Does he seem to understand what you say? The ability to understand language precedes the ability to talk. If your child seems to comprehend a great deal of what others are saying, he's well on his way to talking.
• Does your child use gestures and facial expressions to communicate? Many children communicate what they need nonverbally, and in fact most toddlers develop a host of nonverbal signals. Until about 24 months, it's more important that your child is making some kind of effort to communicate than that he has a large vocabulary.
• Does your child grunt? This may seem like a strange question, but new research shows that the little grunts toddlers make while pointing to pictures or playing with toys are actually a kind of commentary. Children who aren't yet talking and don't grunt are more likely to later be diagnosed with a language delay.
If your child isn't showing these signs of readiness, you may want to make an appointment for a speech and hearing assessment. Most public schools offer free screenings; if yours doesn't, try contacting the county office of education. In general, the earlier a language delay is detected, the easier it is to treat. Many language problems can be treated very effectively during the preschool years so that your child will have no long-term deficits.