15-Month-Old Not Talking: Should You Be Worried?

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

As per the standards of developmental milestones, it is expected that children at the age of 15 months will display a curiosity and aptitude for communication through various means such as making sounds, using gestures, babbling, and trying to form words.

While they may not speak clear words yet, they should have a vocabulary of at least 3 “words” that they use to communicate their needs, and they should be learning new words at a steady rate. 

According to speech-language pathologist Ali Navia

“A word is counted if a child can utilize it consistently and intentionally to refer to someone or something.

Words that also ‘count’ for these metrics include word approximations, sound effects, animal sounds, signs, and fun words!”

When my daughter was 15 months old, I was concerned because she wasn’t saying many clear and recognizable words yet.

However, I’ve learned that I had the wrong expectations and wasn’t paying attention to other important speech and language milestones.

Now, many years later, she has an incredible vocabulary.

When To Worry

You should really only worry if your child is not making any noises or any attempts at communication by 15 months. 

At this age, what is most important is that your child is attempting communication and that they are demonstrating that they are capable of communicating.

Communication attempts can be in the form of gestures, noises, words, or imitated sounds. 

Their ability to follow simple directions or consistently use the same gestures or sounds to communicate the same need shows you that they are capable of communication. 

I would advise to first look at what they are doing instead of what they are not doing. 

  • Are they interested in listening or watching you talk?
  • Are they babbling and imitating sounds?
  • Do they attempt to speak in any form (babbles, noises, partial words, gestures)?
  • Do they understand a lot of words and follow simple commands?
  • Are they on track in other developmental areas?

If you can answer yes to most of these questions, it is likely that your little one is on the right track. 

With that said, it is important to keep your child’s progression on your radar as they might be “at risk” for being a late talker. 

This doesn’t mean that they are behind or have a “delay.” It just means that they may be at risk for one and need a little bit of early intervention. 

Practice some early intervention strategies (we’ll talk about that in a bit) and intentional interaction at home to help your child progress. 

15-Month-Old Development Red Flags

Despite varying developmental rates during early childhood, there are some red flags to look for: 

  • The child does not make eye contact or respond to name.
  • The child has little to no interest in social or object interactions.
  • The child makes no noises or gestures.
  • The child displays gross motor delays.
  • The child displays skill regression.
  • Your child has not said one word by the age of 18 months.
  • Your child isn’t making sounds purposely or spontaneously and only mimicking or imitating by the age of 2.
  • Your child isn’t following simple directions by the age of 2.

If your child exhibits one or more of these red flags, talk to your primary healthcare provider for an evaluation and answers.

A little girl in a yellow dress at a playground.

What To Expect

Normal development is progressive and gradual.

If you are observing growth in language skills and attempts at communication, your 15-month-old is on the right track.

Receptive language skills develop from social interactions, conversations, and narration.

Expressive language develops from gestures, imitation, and facial expressions.

8-12 Months

This is when the first attempts at communication typically occur.

During this stage, children begin to use sounds and gestures to communicate. Essentially, your child begins babbling with purpose.

12-18 Months

First words appear between 12 and 18 months.

For those who haven’t started babbling by 12 months, expect your child to be engaging in “chatter” ranging from gestures to noises.

If your child hasn’t started these behaviors by 18 months, be sure to consult their pediatric provider.

18-24 Months

Between 18 and 24 months, major language skills develop. Sounds and babbling progress into recognizable words. 

Words progress into strings of sentences and children are typically able to combine two words by age 2. 

Be aware that if your child is late in talking, they may still be using gestures and sounds to communicate their needs.

Regular well-child visits to a pediatric provider are important to assess growth and development and screen for any delays. 

Early detection of delays and referral to therapy services is the best way to promote your child’s development and improve their long-term outcomes.

Language Development in 15-Month-Old

Every child develops at their own pace.

Some children may be talking up a storm of true words while others use partial words (ma for mama, pi for pig, ba for bottle, etc.), made-up words, and gestures to communicate. 

How Many Words a 15-Month-Old Should Say

Most 15-month-olds are saying at least one word, such as “mama” or “dada.” Your 15-month-old’s vocabulary may consist of 3-10 words.

It is important to note that while these words may be clear, most of the time, these words will not be articulated to perfection. 

It is also important to keep in mind that any gestures or sounds that are used to communicate the same thing consistently (such as ba for bottle) also count as a word. 

How Many Words a 15-Month-Old Should Understand

Toddlers’ receptive language vocabulary is much larger than their expressive vocabulary. 

At 15 months, your toddler should understand up to 150-200 words or more.

The average toddler will acquire a new word every day between 12 and 15 months.

What Words a 15-Month-Old Should Be Saying

Typical words at 15 months include “Mama,” “Dada,” and an additional one or two familiar words.

Vocabulary at 15 months is often a list of simple nouns or verbs. Many “words” may sound like noises or parts of words.

Any words and sounds paired with imitation or gestures that help you understand and communicate with your toddler are considered words.

Other expressive languages such as sign language, abbreviated words, animal sounds, or babble with intent are also all considered words. 

Normal Talking for a 15-Month-Old

A 15-month-old should be using 3-10 words regularly.

These words may be clear, or they may be versions of words; nonetheless, those words will still have an evident meaning.

At this stage in development, children are learning to mimic and imitate language and speech patterns while simultaneously using gestures. 

15-Month-Old Not Talking

If your 15-month-old is not talking yet, don’t panic. First “words” typically develop anywhere from 12-18 months.

As long as your 15-month-old is demonstrating the ability and desire to communicate in some form (babbling, sounds, gestures), they are on the right track.

It may be helpful to begin practicing a few of the interaction tips that we discuss below.

A cute toddler with a slight smile on her face against a gray background.

How To Help Your Baby Talk

The best way to teach your baby to talk is to talk to them, at them, and with them. Simple activities and intentional things you can do include: 

  • Repetitive songs with actions.
  • Practice imitation with them. Model different babbling sounds like “mama” and “baba,” and have them repeat after you.  
  • Play! Keep your child’s attention by following their lead. 
  • Read together every day, pointing out pictures and objects.
  • Respond to your baby even if they are just making noise. Validate your child’s attempts with a response to their chatter.
  • Make eye contact with your child when they are speaking or you are speaking to them. 
  • Encourage them to play with toys and objects that make noise. These can encourage children’s attention and listening skills.
  • Tell them about what you’re doing/narrate your day.
  • Give simple directions in a meaningful manner.
  • Describe the objects they point to. While we think a chair is something simple, they don’t know what it is until we tell them!
  • If they try to say the word, repeat it to them.
  • Pick a few specific words, and repeat them often.
  • Make sure your child can see your face so they can imitate you. This is especially important when reading a book. 
  • Give them choices such as milk or juice. These questions are better than one-word response yes/no questions.
  • Praise your little one for their words, gestures, and communication attempts.

Late Talking in Children

A “late-talker” is a toddler between 18 and 30 months who has a good understanding of language but has a limited spoken vocabulary for their age.

Late talkers have difficulty specifically with expressive language. 

If your child is not using at least 20 words by 18 months or 100 words by 24 months, talk to your primary care provider or seek evaluation from a speech-language pathologist.

The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome. While most late talkers tend to catch up to peers by preschool age, some do not. 

If you think your child is a late-talker, it is never too early to seek out support. 

Possible Reasons for Not Talking

There can be various reasons why a toddler might not be talking as expected. Here are some possibilities:

  • Normal Variability: Every child develops at their own pace, and some toddlers might start talking a little later than others without any underlying issues.
  • Hearing Problems: Hearing issues, even minor ones, can affect a child’s speech development. If they can’t hear properly, they might not imitate sounds or words.
  • Speech Delay: Sometimes, children experience a delay in speech development where they might start talking later than expected but eventually catch up.
  • Bilingualism: Children growing up in bilingual households might take a little longer to start speaking as they are processing two languages simultaneously.
  • Environmental Factors: A lack of exposure to language or limited interaction with caregivers and peers might hinder speech development.
  • Motor Skills: Difficulty coordinating the necessary mouth and tongue movements to form words can also be a reason.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Developmental Delays: In some cases, delays in speech can be a sign of developmental issues like ASD or other developmental delays.
  • Selective Mutism: Some toddlers might not speak in certain situations due to anxiety or other psychological factors.

Can a 15-Month-Old Be Diagnosed With Autism?

Autism affects 1 in every 166 children. Autism can be detected and diagnosed as early as 14 months old.

Early detection opens the door for early intervention support and resources.

Signs of autism in children under 2 years old include:

  • Limited to no eye contact / rarely attends to name
  • Rarely shows affection, interest, or enjoyment with you
  • Shows little to no interest in social play or interactions
  • Moving, pulling, or using your hand as a tool in place of communication
  • Repetitive movements or behaviors
  • Becomes very upset over change
  • Excessive interest in specific objects or activities
  • Overstimulation or unusual sensory responses

If your child shows three or more of these early signs of autism, contact your pediatrician and request a diagnostic referral.