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Why is my 18 month old not talking but understands everything? (Answer from an SLP)

“Is it okay if my 18 month old toddler hasn’t started talking yet?” It is a very common concern parents approach us with. Just like learning anything new, language development also involves obtaining various bits and pieces of information. If your toddler understands you but isn’t talking, they have already acquired a big piece in this learning process. In this blog we have aimed to help you understand better what is going on with your toddler if he isn’t talking yet, along with various aids for you to help them overcome speech delay.

As a speech therapist, while assessing the speech of a child, development of understanding for language is a very good sign. When we think of language development we mainly think of talking. But language is divided into two types- receptive language and expressive language. So if your child understands what is being communicated to them, it means that the receptive language is developing perfectly in your toddler and an important building block is in place.

Few receptive and expressive language milestones for an 18 months old toddler.

A child doesn’t start talking overnight, it is a slow process that occurs over months, it comprises various small milestones. These smaller milestones are often overlooked by parents. A toddler won’t speak a word if they don’t understand it first. It is good news if your toddler is showing signs of understanding you. Therefore it can be very helpful if parents understand the important milestones in receptive and expressive language.

18 months old receptive language milestones:-

  • Follows simple directions like 'can you kiss mom', or 'take this out'.

  • Understands simple questions like 'Where's the ball? ', or 'where's dad?'.

  • Enjoys listening to songs, rhymes, storybooks, etc.

  • Understands basic actions like clap, sit, jump, swing, etc.

  • Recognizes names of familiar objects and people.

18 months old expressive language milestones:-

  • The vocabulary of an 18 month old toddler can vary from 20 to 200 words (minimum you can think of 10 words.)

  • Points to major objects in the room like fan, light, etc.

  • Starts to name pictures in books.

  • Imitates play sounds and words.

  • Uses true words along with babbling.

Causes of speech delay in a child:

There can be several reasons why your 3-year-old child is not talking. Some possible reasons can be hearing loss, neurological disorders like autism, intellectual disability, lack of language stimulation at home, cognitive delay, delayed motor and speech and language development, and developmental anomalies like cleft lip, cleft palate, short frenulum.

Your next steps if your toddler is isn’t talking

Tips to help your toddler develop speech at home:

  • Teach them basic sign language: speech is a much more complex motor skill than sign language. Sign language for toddlers comprises a set of motor movements that are much easier for a toddler to pick up. For instance, you can teach them simple phrases like, ‘all done’, ‘mama’, ‘more’.

  • Nursery rhymes with actions: Various nursery rhymes like 'if you are happy and you know clap your hands' and much more can be very helpful for development of both understanding and expression of speech in your child. These rhymes help your child understand the actions and remember words easier.

  • Read to them: You can read colorful story books with cartoons and rhymes with them. It helps them understand language and learn how to pronounce words.

  • Tell your toddler what you are doing: Incorporate learning in everyday scenarios, you can ask them to help you with basic chores, and explain to them what you are doing.

  • When they try saying words repeat it to them: The more your toddler will hear a word, the faster they will learn it. If your toddler pronounces or uses a word incorrectly in a sentence, correct the toddler with patience. Rather than being like that's wrong, you can repeat the sentence with a correct use of the word.

  • Infant-directed speech: The speech we use while talking to an infant or a toddler, like speaking slowly, with more repetitions and a higher pitch. It can help the child in developing joint attention skills, a larger vocabulary, and language development.

  • Gentle sabotage: It refers to withholding the toy or material the child wants in order to motivate use of expressive language. You can place their favorite toy a bit out of their reach so they have to ask you to get it.

Sounderic provides online speech therapy sessions for children with various communication disorders. We would love to help you. Get in touch with us on WhatsApp at +919644466635 or schedule a consultation with us at

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