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Why is my 2 years old not talking but understands everything? [Answer from SLP]

A mom playing with a 2 year old kid

If your 2 year old is not talking yet but understands most of the things that you say to them, they can be a late talker. A child can be a late talker due to various reasons ranging from the child being shy or introverted to them having hearing loss or developmental delay.

"As per ASHA, almost 8% of children in the United States have language delays or disorders. Boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to have a communication disorder."

Receptive language

Receptive language is a term used to define the understanding of language. It is the ability of a child to understand what others are saying to them. It includes understanding spoken, written, or gestural communication.

Few signs indicating that your child understands you:

  • Your child follows your gaze.

  • Your child points to objects they want.

  • Your child responds when you call it their name.

  • Your child tries to imitate the sounds you make.

  • Your child uses gestures like, waving 'bye-bye', or shaking their head for 'no'.

If your child is able to understand what you are saying but doesn't talk, they may have expressive language delay.

Expressive language

Expressing language is defined as the communication skill through which your child uses words to express their thoughts and ideas.

Here's a checklist to help you understand if your child has an expressive language delay:

  • Your child has a limited vocabulary.

  • Your child have a made up, or vague vocabulary.

  • They rely on gestures to communicate their needs.

  • They do not imitate the environmental sounds.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 15 percent of children between the ages of 18 and 24 months old are late talkers.

Causes of speech delay

A few common causes of speech delay are:

  1. Hearing Loss- Speech delay is quite common in long term ear infections, like chronic otitis media.

  2. Mental retardation- mental retardation accounts for about 50% of cases of speech delay in children. In this case, the child can present with global language delay, delayed hearing, and delayed use of gestures, based on the severity of mental retardation.

  3. Developmental language delay/ maturation delay- it is due to delayed neurological development required for speech. One of the prevailing concerns of parents is cognitive delays. This entails both language delays and delay in development of adaptive, together known as intellectual disability.

  4. Psychosocial deprivation- the immediate environment around the child is very important for the development of speech.

  5. Autism - it is a neurological developmental disorder in which the child has difficulty in development in certain domains, i.e, social interaction, behavior, and learning.

  6. Developmental anomalies- congenital malformations like cleft lip, cleft palate, short frenulum, and weak palatopharyngeal muscles.

Speech milestones for a 2 year old child.

It is very important to keep in mind that not all children develop at the same pace. The milestones mentioned under are based on the average age most children attain these milestones by, therefore, these are helpful for a general assessment of your child. If you feel that your child is lagging significantly in several milestones, consulting a paediatrician or, when it comes to speech and language milestones, a speech therapist/ a speech language pathologist can be quite helpful.

Here are tips for parents that can be helpful when you are trying to help your child with speech delay-

  • Communication: communication is the key, even if the child doesn't reciprocate.

  • You can place their favorite toy a bit out of their reach so they have to ask you to get it.

  • Read to them- you can read colorful story books with cartoons and rhymes to them.

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

  • Sing poems and rhymes with them

Read more: Common questions parents have regarding overcoming speech delay

Does speech delay mean low intelligence? [Answer from SLP]

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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