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No words at 13months

Hi, my son recognises no words at 13 months. He babbles ‘mama’ ‘dada’ etc but no understanding. He was due to start speech and language therapy but because of Covid-19 risks, it has been cancelled for 12 weeks.

Can anyone please offer any advice/resources?

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Hi there @Bxp533 I see that you’re new here, welcome! We have many wonderful speech therapists in our community. I will try to tag a couple and see if you can get some answers. @Twowayspeech @Speechie.Morgan

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I’m so sorry to hear that your first speech and language sessions were cancelled. I always congratulate parents for taking the first steps to initiate therapy. It is also wonderful that your child is saying “mama, dada” since babbling is one of the first steps in speech development.

When you say “no understanding” which one do you mean?

THIS-He is not using the words “mama, dada” purposefully. So he will not expressively call “mama” when he sees you or he doesn’t label familiar items like “ball”. If he is not doing this that means he needs to develop the connection between the person/object and the symbolic representation of the word.

If this is the case some things you may want to do for this are:
-put desired items out of reach or in clear boxes so he cannot just get them. First make sure he is reaching/pointing to the desired object. If he is, say what the toy is and then see if he will “Imitate” what you say. This could just be a vocalization that sounds nothing like the word. You are trying to pair that when they use words/vocalizations the vocalizations have a meaning.
-Also if there are 2 adults at home 1 adult can hide around the corner, and the other adult stays with your son, models speech and calls out “mama”. Once you hear him vocalize then come running into the room and hug him.
-When looking at books do not read the words just point to the picture and tell him what the picture is. See if he imitates your vocalization.
-You may also start using some baby sign. Getting the hands moving will help the mouth start to move. mommyandmemilestones has a great resource for baby sign.

or do you mean.

**THAT-**He is not understanding language. Therefore, he has a difficult time following directions like “show me the book”

Babies don’t expressively say their 1st words until around 12 months. However, there are prelinguistic language skills that are developing and a child may need to master these prelinguistic skills before they say their first word. Here is a list of the prelinguistic skills:

1.Responding to the environment
2. Responding to people
3. turn taking (playing peek a boo)
4. Developing a longer attention span
5. joint attention (shifting eye gaze back and forth from the toy/book to their caregiver)
6. Interacts and plays with a variety of toys
7. Understands words and follows directions
8. vocalizes purposefully (not saying words)
9. Imitates body movement and speech sounds
10.Uses gestures to communicate (pointing or baby sign)
11. Initiates

Try to figure out which things your child can do, and play games that work on the other items. If you need some ideas for games let me know.

Also, I would contact the people who were suppose to do the evaluation and see if they are doing any teletherapy. I know right now I’m seeing my clients through teletherapy. This may be a great way for a therapist to help answer any specific questions you may have, and they can give you tips on how to best develop those expressive language skills.

Let me know if you have any other questions!

Thanks, Janice SLP

Thank you Janice, that is very helpful. He does not use words purposefully, and is only showing some of the pre-linguistic skills you mentioned, eg he doesn’t understand what a ‘book’ is but does take turns and make sounds to show frustration etc

I think the biggest issue is he doesn’t really seem to imitate at all

Hi @Bxp533,
I have a question for you in response to your question. Has your son ever had a hearing test? One of the reasons kids can be missing some of the prelinguistic skills @Twowayspeech twowayspeech described can be due to a hearing loss. Even if your son is responding to sounds it could be possible for him to have a hearing loss that affects his ability to hear the speech sounds that will help him understand language. Many audiology clinics are still performing diagnostic hearing tests with special cleaning procedures to prevent covid-19. Let me know if you have any questions about hearing and how it affects language development.

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Yes! Awesome question Lauren.

Hi! We have a lot of great tips and strategies to get your little ones talking over on Instagram @tiny.talkers or

Hi, I think I’m in a similar situation, my 14mo only says mama and papa (hispanic parents and spanish is the main language at home even though I try to sing and speak to him in english, but now I don’t know if that is confusing him), he listens what we say, we give him directions like take this to your chair and he does, bring the ball and he does, so I know that he listens and he understands. But he is not repeating anything we say thanks, we say bye or hello and he waves with his hand but that’s it. He babbles a lot, all of the time but there are not words coming out yet.

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Hi! Bilingual speech pathologist here. What you are describing is completely normal for bilingual development. The milestone for first words is around 12 months, but your baby appears to have great receptive language and is making lots of sounds that will eventually build towards words in one or both languages. I have more tips on bilingual development on Instagram @Speechwithjwo

Thanks for the feedback, I’ll look you up to get those tips.

Based on your “this or that” senerios you’ve mentioned, when should one seek an evaluation for further help? My kiddo is currently 12.5 months, based on our 12 month appointment our pediatrician was not concerned and said we are on track and where she’d expect. However, kiddo definitely does not call for me or address me with “mama” or any sound remotely close. Kiddo does babble mama and Dada though. If she wants my attention she just screams (rather loudly) =/. I know she definitely hears aleast some sounds such as the door when dad comes home from work. But are there any signs one would notice if there’s a partial hearing issue or just not able to hear sounds clearly? If I say a word such as ball, at what age would you expect a toddler to make an attempt at repeating said word whether its ba or ball? If additional help/evalution should be pursued where would one begin? Contact early intervention? An audiologist? SLP?

When deciding when to evaluate we look at the overall quality of the child’s communication at their age. Are they approximating words, following directions, playing peek a boo back and forth games?
By 12 months 90% of kids will say 1 word or word approximation. This means they will use the same sounds for the same word consistently. Like ba for ball. And the average child has 5+ words. By 18 months 90% of kids have 10 words and on average by 18 months children will have 50 words. This does not mean they are using all of these words all of the time.

Right now I would start writing a list of the words you hear or have heard your child say. This will help both you and your pediatrician understand where the child is in speech development.

In terms of saying “mama” or “dada”, one way language is learned is through cause and effect and the emotional piece that goes with it. If every time the child screams you come then they will keep screaming.
During play time play games where the child imitates and practices the words mama and dada. I love the Mama and Dada books by Jimmy Fallon.
Then in the moment of the scream. Talk to your child and say “you want Mama, mama,” after doing this a few times hopefully they will begin to start imitating “mama” or “dada”

No matter what trust your instincts. Make sure your child is saying some words, following basic directions, and playing back and forth games. If you are still concerned contact your pediatrician’s referral office for either an early intervention evaluation or a private evaluation.