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

Infancy is fleeting. The trimesters have evolved into developmental milestones. Milestones regarding communication are long-awaited.

Communicating with your child is one of the most positive and rewarding experiences of parenthood. So, when can you expect those first words? Can you encourage language and communication skills?

Should a 15-month-old be talking? Speech and language skills don’t develop overnight, and children develop at different rates. Generally, first words appear between 12 and 15 months of age. Most of these “words” will be expressed in the form of babble with intention and/or imitation.

Development is measured along a curve. Children between 12 – 15 months generally express 2 – 5 words. Toddlers babble and string together sounds, much of which need to be interpreted.

Some toddlers express fully articulated sentences and sing songs from memory. So when do you worry? What is considered normal language development at 15 months?

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 made-up words and gestures to communicate. Either way, you are beginning to understand more of your child’s communication efforts. 

How Many Words Should a 15-Month-Old 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. 

How Many Words Should a 15-Month-Old Understand?

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- 15 months.

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

What Words Should a 15-Month-Old 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

Your 15-month-old is not talking yet, don’t panic. By 12 – 18 months, your toddler typically should be using language more recognizably. 

First “words” typically develop anywhere from 12 – 18 months. Encourage your child’s language development by trying these tips:

  • Engage in conversation and chatter
  • Narrate your day
  • Fuel vocabulary growth through music and books
  • Give simple directions in a meaningful manner
  • Use repetition to encourage imitation
  • Use gestures and facial expressions when communicating

What To Expect

Normal development is progressive and gradual. If you are observing growth in language skills and attempts in 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: First attempts at communication. 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 2 words by age 2. Be aware that if your child was late 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.

When To Worry

It is important that your child is capable of and attempting communication. Communication attempts can be in the form of gestures and/or noises.

Their ability to follow simple directions shows you that they are capable of communication. When in doubt, contact your child’s primary care physician.

If you notice red flags contact your pediatrician.

  • If your child does not seem to understand or respond to you when you talk
  • If your child has not said one word by the age of 18 months.
  • If your child isn’t making sounds purposely or spontaneously and only mimicking or imitating by the age of 2
  • If your child isn’t following simple directions by the age of 2
  • If your child has a strange tone of voice
A little girl in a yellow dress at a playground.

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.

  • Watch your baby’s facial expressions, gestures, and body language
  • Listen to your baby’s noises and sounds
  • Respond to your baby even if they are just making noise. Validate your child’s attempts with a response to their chatter
  • Praise your little one for their words, gestures, and communication attempts.

More ways to help support your little one’s language skills include repetitive songs and simple phrases. The most fun and the easiest way to help your baby talk is PLAY!

15-Month-Old Development Red Flags

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

Red flags include:

  • 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

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

Late Talking in Children

1 in 4 children are late talkers. A “late-talker” is a typically developing 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. 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.

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. If your child is making efforts to communicate, they are on the right track.

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 supports 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
  • Over-stimulation 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.

When Do Babies Start Talking Clearly?

Children do not begin expressing themselves clearly until they are 3 – 4 years old. 

When Do Babies Talk in Sentences?

Typically children will begin to use simple two-word sentences around 2 years old. Once that milestone is reached, longer and more complex sentences soon follow.

Final Thoughts

Developmental milestones are a standard set of generalized rules. Development is a curve of growth with no two 15-month-olds being the same.

The best ways to support your child’s speech and language skills are to play, talk, read, and sing together.