Does my child need speech therapy? Speech milestones for kids

What should a typical preschooler be able to say? Children’s speech therapist, Maja Zubic, from Kids First Children’s Services in Sydney’s northern beaches, provides a brief summary for parents of what is and is not typical as your child’s speech and language develops.


Did you know that 41-75% of Australian preschoolers who have early language delays still experience reading difficulties at the age of eight?

It’s a worrying statistic, but studies have shown that if you want to ensure that your child has the foundations for later literacy, it’s important to make sure that your preschooler’s speech and language skills are age appropriate now.

What’s ‘normal’?
According to paediatric Speech Pathologist Maja Zubic, children frequently make mistakes when they are learning to speak.

“When they are learning to talk, ALL children, sometimes utter oddly worded sentences, put speech sounds in the wrong spots or or omit them altogether.”

“It’s not uncommon for kids aged two to five to misunderstand what is said to them or to forget a sequence of instructions, so if these things happen occasionally, parents should not be overly concerned,” she said.

What’s not ‘normal’?

Ms Zubic said that there are other language and communication characteristics that parents should monitor more closely and seek advice about if they have concerns.

“It is not typical for children to stutter, be disinterested in communicating with other people or make infrequent eye-contact with others,” she said.

She advised that parents should also be on the lookout for preschoolers who are stand-offish with people who are not members of their family, echo all or part of what other people say word-for-word or speak with a consistently hoarse voice.

“All of these communication habits are things that a parent would probably want to have assessed by a paediatric specialist so that professional support can intervene early enough to help the child overcome these challenges’” she said.

How to know if your child’s speech is developing appropriately

Kids usually learn to use sounds in a predictable order. Easy and frequently heard sounds like ‘p’ ‘m’ and ‘t’ usually come first, while more difficult sounds like ‘ch’, ‘th’ and ‘l’ come later.

As they are learning to speak, many children will substitute the ‘w’ sound for ‘r’ sound for a long time—saying things like ‘wabbit’ instead of ‘rabbit’. This is typical Maja says that parents need not be too concerned.

However, if your child is making frequent speech sound errors, it’s important that these are resolved so that your child’s later learning and literacy is not affected.

To find the ages at which most children usually develop speech sounds, check this chart developed by Australian speech and language expert Caroline Bowen

What words should your child be able to say?
Your child’s vocabulary should be constantly growing.

Between the ages of three and five, your child, you can expect that your preschooler will develop a vocabulary of over 1000 words.

Your child should also be learning and using words related to:

  • Numbers
  • Categories ( ie they should know that the ‘animals’ category includes cats, giraffes and elephants and that the ‘fruit’ category includes apples, strawberries and bananas.
  • Concepts ( for example, bigger/smaller, hot/cold, behind/in front, first/last)
  • Your child should also be developing the ability to use connecting words like ‘and’, ‘if, and ‘because’.

Your child’s speech should be able to be understood
It is important that your child’s speech can be understood by peers and adults who are outside your family. This is vital for the development of social skills, friendships and learning. The general guidelines for intelligibility in young children are as follows:

  • A 2 year old understood by others about 50% of the time
  • A 3 year old should be able to be understood by others about 75% of the time
  • A 4 year old should be able to be understood by others nearly 100% of the time

Worried about your child’s speech?

If you’re concerned that your child is not developing the ability to pronounce sounds properly, Kids First’s paediatric speech pathologists can help.

Make an appointment to have your child’s speech and language checked today.

Email us or call our Brookvale centre on (02) 9938 5419 for an appointment now.

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