– EARLY TALKING –
According to Dr. Benjamin Spock, nine months is the earliest that first words emerge, and most babies do not have true words until later. These words first appear at about the same time that babies begin to understand “that things in the world continue to exist even when they are out of sight.”[pq]Early or late talking makes very little difference in the long run and many perfectly normal children don’t say their first words until the age of 14 or 15 months, or even later.[/pq]
Girls tend to begin talking earlier than boys. Talking late—first words after age two, for example—is much more common among boys than girls. There are almost certainly brain-based differences in this, possibly because the areas of the brain that process verbal language are different between males and females.
With very early talkers, there is a tendency for adults to overestimate the child’s development in other areas—such as adults offering long explanations on the assumption that the child can understand these long-winded speeches.
According to Dr. Spock, “the parents of verbally precocious babies may be tempted to push ahead with academic-like learning, such as teaching colors or numbers, rather than allowing the child time to explore the world with all of his or her senses and to plain aimlessly.”
If your baby is an early talker—meaning to say he or she speaks words that he or she associates with objects, persons, animals, or actions, then be encouraging and have short conversations with your baby.
Enlarge your baby’s vocabulary by pointing at an object and telling your baby the name of that object. If you are walking with your baby in your arms, tell him or her “we are walking to (fill destination here) and let your baby know when you have arrived at your destination.
If you wish to teach your child sentence structure, do so but keep to the simplest words and sentence forms. Keep the lessons short and fun and back off when your child shows interest in other activities, like harassing the dog or playing with his or her toys.
Also, seize opportunities rather than force them on your child—if he or she tries talking to you, listen intently, keeping your eyes in contact with your child’s, then reply when the baby stops talking. Listening is a very vital part of communication, though many human beings don’t listen as well as they speak.
Talking is one part of vocabulary development, with listening as its partner. You may also want to get illustrated baby books to read to and with your child so you can help him or her with the associative aspect of language.
While you should encourage your child’s early vocabulary explorations, do not get too comfortable in your proud parent suit. Remember that your baby is still a baby and scale down your expectations and demands from him or her. Growing up and exploring the world are for your child to do at his own pace, not yours.[pq]Early vocabulary development may also mean slight delays in other areas of development, so have patience if your early talker is still wobbly on his or her feet or is a picky eater.[/pq]
After all, development does not come in a streamlined flow chart. Rather, it comes in what appears to be fits and starts at first until mastery of the basic skills is achieved.
Genius is, after all, only one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. If you think that early talking may indicate the seed of genius in your baby, give it time and room to grow by reining in your great expectations, even as you help your child learn the intricacies of speech and language day by day.
– LATE TALKING –
If your baby is already walking but has yet to learn how to talk, don’t worry, because babies often specialize in one area of development at a time.
Take this scenario: Between 10 and 11 months, one baby boy spends nearly every waking moment trying to walk. Once he takes his first few independent steps, he is all over the house, walking for the sheer joy of it. This baby boy has little time to think about words for all the things he is seeing as he walks. By 14 months, he has pretty much mastered the skill of walking and begins to point at things, as if to ask, “What’s that?” His vocabulary will improve after that.
Then there are babies who are slow in virtually every area of development: slow to sit, stand and walk—and slow to talk. This is still not a cause for worry, unless these seeming developmental delays are accompanied by other bothersome symptoms or an illness. These babies are probably just what some authorities call “watchers.” About one in seven babies are watchers, according to estimations made by experts.
These “watchers” observe, take everything in, and then only let you know that they have been learning and growing later—often after their parents have begun to worry that their development is delayed.
Many of these late bloomers were born prematurely. Depending on how premature they were, they may take months, or even years to catch up, some are simply slow developers by nature. But again, development is not a race. Most of these babies will do perfectly fine in the long run.
A small number of infants who are slow across the board do actually have a long-term problems with development. A careful pediatric and developmental assessment can help to identify these children early so that they can get the best possible early help.
If you are concerned that your child may fall into this group, talk with his pediatrician. Looking for developmental red flags may be helpful, but remember: No questionnaire or list can take the place of a careful, hands-on evaluation of your baby’s developmental progress.