First words are so very exciting! Will your baby say “mama” first, or could it be “daddy”? Your baby’s coos and burbles are turning into real speech faster than you could imagine, but in reality, it will take years for your child to develop the tongue, cheek and facial muscles to clearly enunciate all the sounds needed for intelligible, unambiguous speech.
Bay Street Pediatrics is here to explain which sounds you might hear first, which sounds can be a real challenge and what signs might indicate intervention is needed.
There’s a reason why most toddlers say “ma ma” first. “M” is one of the first sounds to develop. Some babies may begin with “da da”, but the “d” sound can be more difficult as it is created by the tongue and the roof of the mouth rather than just the lips. By the time your child turns one year old, you may also hear “p”, “h”, “w”, “b” and “n”. There is no reason to worry, however, if you don’t hear them, even by the age of three. Your child might be 3-1/2 years old by the time they can pronounce these sounds easily and understandably.
Between ages 2 and 4, you may also start hearing “k”, “g” and “t” sounds.
About the time your child turns five years old, they will typically start using blends, such as “st”, “pl”, and “gr”. This will be a subtle but important change. “Stop” will replace “top” and “great” will sound just great, rather than “gate”. Some blends are more difficult. Your child may celebrate their seventh birthday before they can clearly create the difference between “sh” and “ch.” You may hear “chopping” instead of “shopping” until your child is in second grade or so. The “th” blend may take up to 8 years to develop, to properly say “thick” instead of “tick.”
You may hear a “w” substituted for an “l” such as “wuv” instead of “love” until about age 7. This can also be true for a “y” sound that may be substituted with an “l”, as in “lellow” for “yellow.”
Some sounds are even more of a challenge for small lips and tongues. You may hear substitutions well into elementary school. You may hear a lisping “th” instead of a clear “s”, a “w” sound for “r” such as “buwd” instead of “bird”, or “ink” instead of “ing” as in “goink” instead of “going”. These sounds are among the most difficult to form and your child may be eight years old before all muscles are sufficiently developed.
When it seems that your child’s speech is difficult for people outside your immediate household to understand, first consider your child’s age. It might simply be too early for challenging sounds to be fully developed.
While most children will develop their speech and language skills typically over time, some children may have challenges that require additional help. If you have concerns about your child’s specific development, the best thing to do is reach out to our office so we can help evaluate and make any recommendations necessary. Some behaviors of concerns can include:
- Drools excessively, even when not teething
- Doesn’t use their lips when eating or cannot eat neatly, dropping food from their mouth
- Keeps their mouth open and/or tongue out; holds an open mouth posture
- Is unable to touch their tongue to their upper lip, or to lick their lips
- Is a mouth breather
- Has difficulty making a “kiss face” or blowing “raspberries”
- Has difficulty blowing out candles, or blowing bubbles
- Cannot bite their lower lip
If you have any questions or concerns, call the office at 203-227-3674 or send a portal message for more information or an appointment to discuss. As always, we’re here to help!