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Milestones versus Averages: A Guide to your child's communication milestones birth-3

Knowing when to contact a Speech Language Pathologist can be hard, but knowing the difference between a milestone and an average can help guide your decisions. As a parent and a SLP, I know all too well what it feels like to wait and see if your child meets their milestones.

To bring some clarity to this subject, let’s define the terms, milestone and average. A milestone is what 90% of children are able to do at a certain age. The average is what 50% of children are able to do at a certain age. A missed milestone is an essential time to call a speech pathologist to determine if a professional evaluation is needed. Watching and waiting when the milestone has been missed could further delay the development of this skill. Speech and Language skills build upon each other like bricks building a house. You would never skip pouring the foundation to your home, it would be unsteady and shaky. The same is true about speech and language skills, skipping or jumping beyond a milestone may cause your child to have a missing piece to his/her foundation. So when you notice that your child may have missed a milestone, please don’t hesitate to call and discuss your concerns. Here at The Speech Spot, a licensed Speech Therapist will always answer your call and gladly discuss with you your concerns and guide you to the next steps. In some cases, an evaluation is not recommended, and we provide you, your child’s first and best educator, with ideas and activities to work on your concerns at home.

To help guide you through your child’s speech and language developmental milestones, we have provided some common speech, language, and social/emotional milestones to be on the lookout for in your child. If your child has missed any of the following milestones by the age listed, it is time to call to discuss your concerns. All milestones provided by the CDC. The CDC has a wonderful website for all your developmental milestone concerns,

Additionally, social and emotional communication skills are very important to your child’s overall ability to communicate. Many parents don’t realize that it is within the scope of practice for a speech-language pathologist to address these concerns as well.


By 6 months:

Social and Emotional

  • Knows familiar faces and begins to know if someone is a stranger

  • Likes to play with others, especially parents

  • Responds to other people’s emotions and often seems happy

  • Likes to look at self in a mirror


  • Responds to sounds by making sounds

  • Strings vowels together when babbling (“ah,” “eh,” “oh”) and likes taking turns with parent while making sounds

  • Responds to own name

  • Makes sounds to show joy and displeasure

  • Begins to say consonant sounds (jabbering with “m,” “b”)


By 12 months:

Social and Emotional

  • Is shy or nervous with strangers

  • Cries when mom or dad leaves

  • Has favorite things and people

  • Shows fear in some situations

  • Hands you a book when he wants to hear a story

  • Repeats sounds or actions to get attention

  • Puts out arm or leg to help with dressing

  • Plays games such as “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake”


  • Responds to simple spoken requests

  • Uses simple gestures, like shaking head “no” or waving “bye-bye”

  • Makes sounds with changes in tone (sounds more like speech)

  • Says “mama” and “dada” and exclamations like “uh-oh!”

  • Tries to say words you say


By 18 months:

Social and Emotional

  • Likes to hand things to others as play

  • May have temper tantrums

  • May be afraid of strangers

  • Shows affection to familiar people

  • Plays simple pretend, such as feeding a doll

  • May cling to caregivers in new situations

  • Points to show others something interesting

  • Explores alone but with parent close by


  • Says several single words- has a vocabulary of around 20 words

  • Says and shakes head “no”

  • Points to show someone what he wants


By 2 years old:

Social and Emotional

  • Copies others, especially adults and older children

  • Gets excited when with other children

  • Shows more and more independence

  • Shows defiant behavior (doing what he has been told not to)

  • Plays mainly beside other children, but is beginning to include other children, such as in chase games


  • Points to things or pictures when they are named

  • Knows names of familiar people and body parts

  • Says sentences with 2 to 4 words

  • Follows simple instructions

  • Repeats words overheard in conversation

  • Points to things in a book


By 3 years old:

Social and Emotional

  • Copies adults and friends

  • Shows affection for friends without prompting

  • Takes turns in games

  • Shows concern for crying friend

  • Understands the idea of “mine” and “his” or “hers”

  • Shows a wide range of emotions

  • Separates easily from mom and dad

  • May get upset with major changes in routine

  • Dresses and undresses self


  • Follows instructions with 2 or 3 steps

  • Can name most familiar things

  • Understands words like “in,” “on,” and “under”

  • Says first name, age, and sex

  • Names a friend

  • Says words like “I,” “me,” “we,” and “you” and some plurals (cars, dogs, cats)

  • Talks well enough for strangers to understand most of the time

  • Carries on a conversation using 2 to 3 sentences

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