communication development language speech delay

How many words should my 18 month old have?

How many words should my 18 month old say? I get that question a lot from parents.  What makes this question difficult to answer is that you will get 15 different answers from 15 different website including those that are highly reputable such as the American Pediatric Association and the Mayo Clinic.   As an Early Childhood Interventionist, I find it frustrating that there are so many inconsistencies which makes it very confusing for parents. 

So I thought that today, I would share several language milestones that should be in place by the age of 18 months.  Before I do that, I want to point out a couple of things: 

  • First, this information is based on skills from validated and standardized language screeners, assessment tools and my own professional experience in working with toddlers with language delays
  • Second, these milestones are based on developmental norms.  You need to understand that not all kids are going to demonstrate the same skills at the same time.  I want you to envision a bell curve:  There are going to be some kiddos who are on the low end, some on the high end and the bulk are going to be in the middle. 

One more thing you may be wondering before I go on:  'why are you talking about language skills at 18 months and not 2 years.'   Simply put, I would rather have you thinking about this skills SOONER rather than later.  I'm hoping that by knowing these milestones at 18 months, parents won't wait so long to start working on this skills or seeking support with their child's language.

Finally, these milestones include both expressive AND receptive language skills.  I would be remiss if I didn't include both.  We need to focus just as much (if not more) energy in the early years on helping build our child's understanding of language.  You see, I can't use words if I don't know what the mean.

Okay, without further ado, here are the 18 month old language milestones: 

  • Using single words regularly
  • Have a vocabulary of twenty words by 18 months
  • Points or reaches for desired objects
  • Names a picture on request
  • Uses words to make wants known
  • Uses jargon
  • Uses greeting such as hi or by
  • Imitates environmental noises
  • Uses a few two word phrases 
  • Identifies at least for body parts or clothing items on themselves
  • Understands a few simple directions, e.g., go get your shoes, throw this away, etc.
  • Understands 'where' by looking around
  • Understands about 50 words
  • Points to at least five pictures on request, e.g., where is the dog?
  • Finds several objects on request, e.g., shoes, cup, ball, etc.
  • Responds to familiar routines such as 'time to eat' by going to the kitchen

So there you go, a comprehensive list of skills that should be in place by the age of 18 months.  Now what if your child isn't doing these things?  My first question would be have you worked on them?  My second question is have you had your child's hearing checked?  This is a first step during the evaluation process so be sure to consult with your pediatrician on your next well child visit.

As far as getting your toddler on track, I am sharing this information as a sort of 'checklist.'  I know some clinicians may disagree with my approach, but speaking as a mom of a child who didn't even have five words at the age of 18 months, I used these 'checklists' as a guide of what to work on.  We started with one or two tasks and worked on them until she had them mastered and then moved onto the next.  It took a couple of months, but we got her caught up and she was on track by the age of 2 1/2.  

If you aren't sure on how to work on these skills with your toddler, I have you covered.  I created my How to Get Your Toddler Talking program for parents because I have been in your shoes.  It is filled with strategies to get your toddler from no words to sentences.  The best part:  you can do this by just tweaking things that you are already doing at home.  I had the benefit of having all this information available to me as an Early Childhood Interventionist -- I want you to have it as well.  You can learn more here

I hope you found this information helpful and that you are able to get your toddler on the pathway to words!