My 18-Month-old Hasn't Said a "Real" Word Yet?

Updated on January 23, 2012
R.Y. asks from Memphis, TN
20 answers

My son is 18 months old (will be 19 mos on Feb. 1, actually), and he hasn't said an actual "word" yet - he's got every sound down pat, says "mama," "dada," baba," and will almost always repeat those when you say it to him. he says rara, lala, gaga, zaza, but nothing "real." Lately, i've been saying to him, "Say, 'cat,'" and he always goes, "at, at." He definitely UNDERSTANDS a lot - when he's in front of the baby gate and i need to get through, i say, "Ethan, you got to let me out," and he moves back, etc. He gets a LOT, but my pediatrician wants me to call some Tennessee Early Intervention Service - the booklet talks about kids with "development disabilities" and I'm just like, I don't think he has a disability. Several ppl i've talked to have kids who didn't say their first word(s) until late, some as late as 22 months. But any advice? Anything I can do to boost talking for him - i talk to him all the time, we read, etc.

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So What Happened?

Well, I have not taken him to TEIS yet because he developed yet another ear infection and my pedi is referring himto an ENT - she says she thinks he may need tubes. Like one poster said - on here, I think?? - multiple ear infections slowed their child's talking progress down some. He hears fine, but replicating the sound is harder. I am going to ask the ENT what he thinks when we go in, and see if he thinks tubes will help with the talking progress, or if he has any opinion at all.
I just don't think he has a problem hearing much, if at all. He responds to commands and everything. He just doesn't say any words himself. (mama, dada, baba, rara, papa, "at" is "cat")

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answers from Charlotte on

my son was the same way. he didn't really start talking til right around 2. he started and never quit LOL so i wouldn't worry about it yet. he sounds fine to me :-)



answers from Los Angeles on

My son had a speech delay. He was evaluated at 18 months and provided with speech therapy twice a week. It helped enormously and he is a chatterbox now, although we still have issues with phonetics. Don't be put off by the labels. Just because it says "developmental disabilities" means nothing. Every person who said "he'll start talking in sentences," "boys talk later than girls," "just give it time," were all wrong. I'm so glad I took him when I did so he could get services. He was right on track for receptive speech and all of his motor skills. Just speech delayed. It was a huge relief for me also that I knew there was nothing seriously wrong. Just go.

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answers from Portland on

Because your pediatrician is concerned I would be concerned. Having him tested does not mean that there is anything wrong. In fact, it's a way to show that he's doing fine. If he is having difficulty with talking, testing will allow for him to receive the treatment he needs. You want him to succeed! Give him all the chances for success that you can.

If he's having difficulty the earlier you get him some help the faster he'll be up to speed.

You're doing fine! He just may have some physical issues with nerve pathways. You can't fix those at home by yourself. Speech is very complicated physiologically. Do get an evaluation.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

My son was on the bilingual track (aka about 1-2 years "behind" monolingual kids is the NORMAL milestone list... it's because the brain develops differently). Half a dozen words MAYBE until age 2 (mama, dada, baba, up!), and then had a language explosion right around age 2.

I wasn't worried... he communicated just FINE (facial expression and body language), babbled a lot, understood what was said to him... but some other people were worried.

So my speech-pathologist godmother checked him out one time when she was over, and 2 minutes in just laughed (she spent more than 2 minutes with him, obviously). Yep. He was just fine. Totally on track for a kid hearing more than 1 language. ((Part of the brain atrophies when a child only hears one language)).

My gut was right, my son had no problem at all... but there wasn't any harm in getting him evaluated. It put OTHER people's minds to rest... and it gave me a 'card' to play. (Aka... the speech pathologist says he's right on track for a bilingual kid). Made my life easier after that, because it shut people up.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

It sounds like you are doing all the right things to help him with speech, and it is possible that he will have a "word explosion" soon. In the meantime it doesn't hurt to call Early Intervention. Getting help from someone who specializes in speech does not mean there is anything wrong with him. It just means that he is getting extra help. My daughter was a late talker and always seemed to be on the low end of the normal range for talking. When she turned 3 I realized that she had a lot of words (full sentences/paragraphs etc), but people couldn't really understand her (other than me). She started going to speech once a week, but due to extreme shyness didn't progress much. However, I think that most kids would completely benefit from speech. My daughter is now in the public preschool where they are working on her shyness so they can then work on some or her articulation issues. She is very bright and understands everything people say, but I'm really glad that she has some people giving her extra help so that she will have a better chance at success in kindergarten and beyond.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I've been in your boat! My oldest, now 6, didn't say much--really anything--at 18 months. His pediatrician suggested I get his hearing tested. I assured her he could hear just fine because he would follow simple commands ("Bring me your shoes" or "Put this in the trash"). She said receptive vocabulary (what they hear) and expressive vocabulary (what they say) are different. We had his hearing tested and he had complete fluid blockage in one ear and 50% in the other. Usually this is found through multiple ear infections, but he never had one. The doctor said it was like he was listening under water. He could hear enough to follow commands but not repeat the sounds. He had tubes put in at 20 months and started speech therapy. He is now in 1st grade and you would NEVER know he was a late talker! In Kansas our services are called Tiny-K. The evaluation and services are free! They will evaluate in all areas (cognitive, fine/gross motor skills, speech, etc) and only provide services in the area(s) necessary. It's worth a call! The longer you wait, the more intervention he might need.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I would have him tested. If nothing is wrong, your only out the time it takes to be tested. If they find a problem, you want to know as soon as possible.

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answers from Miami on

Well, mama and dada are real words to me. My 6 year old calls me mama. Baba means bottle to my almost 17 month old. Does it mean something to yours? I've heard that at 18 months they should have about 20 words and this website seems to agree with that. What is the harm in having him tested?


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answers from New York on

I agree with Marda that since your pediatrician reccomended it, go ahead and call. You can always cancel the appointment or you can decide you don't want assistance if it is determined he qualifies (although I don't know why you would do that.) My son got Early Intervation and now goes to a "Disabled" preschool. He is not disabled at all! He has been to a doctor and has no diagnosis or any kind and actually, he has no delays any more either. Don't let that word scare you, it does not apply to the majority of kids who get help. It's like, does going to a psychologist mean you are crazy? Of course not!

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answers from New York on

IMO by two if they are not saying words, get an evaluation. Nothing to lose.
They all talk when they are ready. Some early some late. There are a few
that need services. Really the only reason I say two is because before three, you can go thru your school district for a free evaluation and free
services. After three you are on your own. My first did not talk until she was
three!!!!! Glad I was stupid and it was 1975. She had words at 10 months
but once she started walking she stopped. They really cannot learn the two
at the same time lol.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

The group that provides the testing does all sorts of testing so don't be thrown off by the phrase "developmental disability" - really this is a chance to have a deeper evaluation of your son's speech for FREE! Why wouldn't you do it?

It can only help. I have known several kids that had physical issues forming words and they needed a few mouth and tongue exercises. I mean you won't know if there's something going on if you don't have him evaluated.

We had my daughter evaluated through the school district st age 3. She was leaving off 90% of her beginning sounds! I only wish we had done something sooner because, as one poster already mentioned, before age 3, services are free! Unlike your pediatritian though, ours took the wait and see approach (she had tubes put in at 3 but it didn't make a difference -- that's what our ped.was hoping would happen). Because of her age, we ended up paying out of pocket for private speech therapy.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Lancaster on

My daughter wasn't saying anything at 18 months either. Per our pediatrician's recommendation, we got an eval and then early intevention services. She has a language explosion at 23 months and deveoped a vocabulary of around 50 words within a 3 week time period. I honestly, don't think the early intervention had any effect. She's just a later than average talker. It doesn't hurt to get the eval though, but he is probably just fine.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

My kids are older so I don't remember too much when they were that young. But I do remember my son not really talking until he was just over 2...and then he wouldn't shut up!! And still is like that and he's 9 now. =) If you are concerned, check with the pediatrician and they can let you know what is "normal" and what isn't. Good luck!!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Early Childhood Intervention services are free.
My Son had that for a speech delay from 19 months to almost 3 years old. It was, free.
It helped him IMMENSELY.
He KNEW it was to help him talk. AND he LOVED his sessions, very much.
He was tested for overall development... he was even advanced in many areas, he is also, bilingual.

He is now the most talkative one in our family and has an astounding vocabulary for his age. AND he understands many things, even correcting me with words.

The Speech Therapist, will teach YOU and your son, about MANY things that go with "talking." What your son is doing is a precursor... to talking. That is what babbling is and making sounds. Even if it is not literal talking.

There are many ways, a Speech Therapist helps... with speech. It is not just "talking."
There are mouth/tongue/lip/throat coordination too. And, front of the mouth sounds and back of the mouth sounds and throat sounds. Which you would NOT know... unless a Trained Professional was guiding you. And at each age juncture, certain "sounds" are age related and developmental based. Too.
AND they will teach you, how to help your son.
AND that is how they helped my son... with coordination of his mouth/tongue/lips/sounds coordination, too.

It is not just repeating words to him, in other words.
"Talking", involves many things.
Of which a Speech Therapist will tell you.
And it encompasses a lot more, than just reading to him or talking to him.

Just get your son tested. There is NO "stigma" attached to it.
For me in our locale, I didn't even have to have a Pediatrician referral. I just called our local organization myself and got my son help that he needed.

My son is now, totally fluent in English and my Husband's language. AND his comprehension, is astounding.
The Speech Therapy... helped a great deal.
And my son, still remembers, what he was taught... even if he is 5 years old now.

Just get your son evaluated. Why wait until who knows when or when he is in elementary school?
It is, free help. And very educational... for the parent too.

I NEVER thought of my son as having a disability.
He just needed help with talking. And that was my job to get him the help.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Sounds normal to me in terms of vocalization and probably assigning his own meaning to things. I remember my daughter at 17 months babbling away with those sounds: Dadadada, lalala, babababa. Ca was cat. Dat was what's that (still is). Bull was ball. Etc.

Our pediatrician wasn't concerned at all and neither were we. It never even came up!

It sounds like maybe you have a super-conservative pediatrician--not a bad thing--and if it'll make you feel better to have him tested than by all means.

If you want a second opinion on testing with another doc, go for it!



answers from Knoxville on

You ought to give TEIS a chance, they would know all of the resources that could help him learn to talk. While they do work with children with developmental disabilities they could also be great with mild issues. Even though its hard to deal with its probably better to address it now rather than when hes 4 or 5.



answers from Lexington on

Strongly recommend that you follow your ped's advice. There may not be a disability, but if there is, the sooner it is addressed, the better. Most children (yes, there are exceptions) at the age of your son already have a vocabulary of 25 to 50 words that they can be beginning to string together in short sentences. The fact that even with your encouragement, he does not repeat (correctly) what you say, suggests that there may be something interfering. Rather than get defensive about possibility of disability, do what you can to help your son be successful. I understand that you want to do it yourself, but as you state above (and by simply asking the question) what you are doing is not working.



answers from Louisville on

do what the dr suggests better safe than sorry. it may be hes just slow at talking or something else. eitherway i say have him checked out



answers from Cincinnati on

My son had a speech delay. They tested him at 18 months because he wasn't even saying "Mama" or "Dada." They did a hearing test (his hearing is perfect) and a comprehension test (his comprehension was rated very advanced for his age). Based on these results, the experts recommended that we not bother with speech therapy at the time. They said he should have about 50 words by the time he was 2, or they would reconsider.

It was really something. A "word explosion," other posters below have called it. I think he was 21 months old when he said his first word - maybe 22 months old. By 24 months old, he had 60 words!!! 60 words in 2-3 months! You should consider doing the testing, just to make sure everything is working well. Hearing that my son had the comprehension of a 2.5 year old certainly helped me feel better about the fact that he had never called me "Mama." ^_^

A couple of things that the experts told us that did help - don't ask yes or no questions. Don't say, "Do you want milk with lunch?" Instead, say, "What would you like to drink?" He won't be able to get it, now, of course, so you can give him choices. "Would you like milk or water?" When he indicates something, encourage him to say it. "Oh, you want water. Water. Water." As he gets older, don't accept pointing or grunting, pretend not to understand him unless he at least tries to say the word.

Good luck!



answers from Phoenix on


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