Developing speech and language skills
Children develop at different rates but if children are behind for their age, it is best to get help early.
Use communication milestones to find out if your child needs help developing their speech and language skills.
Communication milestone checklist
If you answer no to any of the questions, consider making a referral to have your child seen by a speech-language pathologist.
By 6 months does your child:
- Startle in response to loud noises?
- Turn to where a sound is coming from?
- Make different cries for different needs (hungry or tired)?
- Watch your face as you talk?
- Smile or laugh in response to your smiles and laughs?
- Imitate coughs or other sounds such as ah, eh, buh?
By 9 months does your child:
- Respond to their name?
- Respond to the telephone ringing or a knock at the door?
- Understand being told no?
- Get what they want through using gestures such as reaching to be picked up?
- Play social games with you such as Peek-a-Boo?
- Enjoy being around people?
- Babble and repeat sounds such as babababa or duhduhduh?
By 12 months does your child:
- Follow simple one-step directions (sit down)?
- Look across the room to a toy when an adult points at it?
- Consistently use three to five words?
- Use gestures to communicate (waves hi and bye, shakes head for no)?
- Get your attention using sounds, gestures and pointing while looking at your eyes?
- Bring you toys to show you?
- Perform for social attention and praise?
By 18 months does your child:
- Understand the meaning of in and out, off and on?
- Point to more than two body parts when asked?
- Use at least 20 words consistently?
- Respond with words or gestures to simple questions (where’s teddy? what’s that?)?
- Demonstrate some pretend play with toys (gives teddy bear a drink, pretends a bowl is a hat)?
- Make at least four different consonant sounds (p ,b, m, n, d, g, w, h)?
- Enjoy being read to and sharing simple books with you?
- Point to pictures using one finger?
By 24 months does your child:
- Follow two-step directions (go find your teddy bear and show it to Grandma)?
- Use 100 to 150 words?
- Use at least two pronouns (you, me, mine)?
- Consistently combine two to four words in short phrases (daddy hat, truck go down)?
- Enjoy being around other children?
- Begin to offer toys to other children and imitate other children’s actions and words?
- Use words that are understood by others 50 to 60 per cent of the time?
- Form words or sounds easily and without effort?
- Hold books the right way up and turn the pages?
- Read to stuffed animals or toys?
- Scribble with crayons?
By 30 months does your child:
- Understand the concepts of size (big and little) and quantity (a little, a lot, more)?
- Use some adult grammar (two cookies, bird flying, I jumped)?
- Use over 350 words?
- Use action words such as run, spill, fall?
- Participate in some turn-taking activities with peers, using both words and toys?
- Demonstrate concern when another child is hurt or sad?
- Combine several actions in play (puts blocks in the train and drives the train, drops the blocks off)?
- Put sounds at the beginning of most words?
- Use words with two or more syllables or beats (ba-na-na, com-pu-ter, a-pple)?
- Recognize familiar logos and signs involving print (stop sign)?
- Remember and understand familiar stories?
By age 3 does your child:
- Understand who, what, where and why questions?
- Create long sentences using five to eight words?
- Talk about past events (trip to grandparents house, day at child care)?
- Tell simple stories?
- Show affection for favourite playmates?
- Engage in multi-step pretend play (pretending to cook a meal, repair a car)?
- Talk in a way that most people outside of the family understand what they are saying most of the time?
- Have an understanding of the function of print (menus, lists, signs)?
- Show interest in, and awareness of, rhyming words?
By age 4 does your child:
- Follow directions involving three or more steps (first get some paper, then draw a picture and give it to Mommy)?
- Use adult type grammar?
- Tell stories with a beginning, middle and end?
- Talk to try and solve problems with adults and with other children?
- Show increasingly complex imaginary play?
- Talk in a way that is understood by strangers almost all the time?
- Generate simple rhymes (cat-bat)?
- Match some letters with their sounds (letter b says buh, letter t says tuh)?
This milestone checklist is from the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services website.
Junior Kindergarten speech, language, and early literacy screening checklist
Complete this checklist to help you decide if your child needs a referral to Early Expressions:
Listening skills and understanding of language
Refer to Early Expressions if you answer yes to one or more of the items in this section:
- Does your child frequently ask you to repeat what you said?
- Does your child rely on peers or other visual cues to follow directions or routines?
- Does your child give off-topic or inappropriate responses that would indicate lack of understanding?
- Does your child have difficulty following simple two or three part directions?
- Do you have concerns about your child’s hearing?
How your child talks:
Refer to Early Expressions if you answer “Yes” to the first question or answer Yes to 2 of the 4 other questions in this section.
- Does your child have difficulty using correct grammar and putting words in the correct order (e.g., “me can go bathroom?”)?
- Does your child have difficulty producing sentences with more than 4 to 6 words?
- Does your child have difficulty putting ideas together in the right order when talking (e.g., sharing events in his day or telling a story)?
- Does your child have difficulty finding the right words to express him or herself?
- Does your child have difficulty carrying on a conversation with others (e.g., initiate, take turns, maintain or elaborate on a topic)?
How you child pronounces sounds: By 3 to 4 years of age, 80 to 90 percent of what a child says should be easily understood by a listener.
Refer to Early Expressions if you answer “Yes” to one of the questions in this section.
- Is it difficult for others to understand what your child is saying most of the time?
- Does your child have difficulty correctly saying most of these words: two, hat, mud, fun, off, key, soap, spoon, cookie, go, hug?
Fluency and stuttering: it is not unusual for children of 3 or 4 years of age to have hesitations and easy repetitions of whole words and phrases. Changes in fluency are to be expected during periods of emotional upset.
Refer to Early Expressions if you answer “Yes” to 2 or more questions in this section.
- Does your child struggle when talking (e.g., prolonged sounds, facial tension, eye blinks, holding breath)?
- Is your child aware of or upset by the stuttering?
- Have you ever been concerned about stuttering?
Refer to Early Expressions if you answer “Yes” to both questions in this section.
- Does your child have an unusual voice quality (e.g., weak, hoarse, raspy, whispered, strained)?
- Has your child exhibited a hoarse voice without a cold for more than a month?
Early literacy skills:
Refer to Early Expressions if you have concerns in this area.
- Does your child know that books are read from left to right, top to bottom, and does your child recognize some symbols (such as a traffic sign or restaurant sign)?
- Does your child make up rhyming words (like ‘Silly Billy’) or alliteration phrases (“dirty dogs dig in the dump for donuts”)?
- Does your child know some letters and their corresponding sounds? (such as the first letter in their name?)
- Does your child draw letters or pretend scribbles are words?
- Does your child guess what will happen next in the story by looking at the pictures?
- Does your child pretend to read?
To make a referral to Early Expressions Preschool Speech and Language program, complete our referral form.
Referrals can also be made by phone at 613-544-3400 ext: 3175 and press 3.
Reprinted with the permission of KFL&A Public Health.
Adapted from the Ottawa-Carleton Catholic School Board -Staff Development, Evaluation and Research Department.
Centre for Child & Youth Development
Kingston Health Sciences Centre,
Hotel Dieu Site
166 Brock Street
Kingston, ON K7L 5G2
Phone 613 544-3400 ext. 3175
Toll Free 1 855-544-3400
Fax 613 545-3557