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Developmental and Language Difficulties - Warning Signs

A delay in language development that persists can become a language difficulty. Generally, a language difficulty appears after a delay in language development. The parameters below are shown as examples. If you find that your child has these signs, see your pediatrician or your local public health unit. You can also contact a speech-language pathologist or an audiologist.

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  Warning Signs
 (Sources: Le développement du langage chez l'enfant : Repères développementaux et indices de difficultés (available in French only) and Votre enfant apprend à parler by Jean-Adolphe Rondal)   Warning signs before the age of six months old. The child:

  • does not react to loud noises
  • is not interested in sound-making toys
  • does not respond to parents’ voices if the parents are not in view
  • does not smile and is apathetic when taken care of
  • does not babble and does not gurgle

  Warning signs between six and twelve months old. The child:

  • does not seem interested in his/her parents or environment
  • does not look at the person when spoken to
  • does not babble
  • does not try to imitate sounds, expressive gestures or intonations
  • does not respond to his/her name at the age of twelve months

 Warning signs between one and two years old. The child:

  • does not understand simple routines (such as bedtime, meals)
  • is not able to express himself/herself except by pointing (between 18 and 24 months old)
  • does not have 50 words of vocabulary (between 18 and 24 months old)
  • does not understand the verbs “prends,” “donne” or “montre” without gestures (at 24 months old).
  • does not make two-word sentences (at 24 months old)

Warning signs at three years old. The child:

  • repeats questions instead of answering
  • is not interested in others
  • does not understand instructions related to routines
  • does not make three-word or four-word sentences
  • is not understood when speaking
  • stutters or stammers

Warning signs at four years old. The child:

  • does not understand spatial concepts (e.g. in, on, or under)
  • is unable to participate in a conversation
  • goes from one subject to another, responds off topic
  • cannot be understood by someone who is unfamiliar to him/her
  • does not ask questions
  • makes sentences that omit words (“moi manger pomme”)

Warning signs at five years old. The child:

  • does not respond adequately to questions asked
  • does not understand instructions to a group (like in daycare)
  • is not able to describe what happened in daycare or explain how a minor injury occurred
  • makes mistakes in sentences (Note: for bilingual children, exclude code switching such as “moi eat apple,” because this is just part of the development of bilingualism at a young age.)
  • makes sentences that omit words (“moi manger pomme”)
  • mixes syllable order (says for example, “gamasin” instead of “magasin”; “colomotive” instead of “locomotive”)
  • mixes sounds (says for example, “pecstacle” instead of “spectacle”; “étrélicité” instead of “électricité”)
  • continues, after five and a half years old, to incorrectly pronounce “ch, j, s” and “z” sounds (see the table titled Comment tester la prononciation de votre enfant, in Votre enfant apprend à parler, p. 38; available in French only).

 To find out more...

  • Le développement du langage chez l'enfant : Repères développementaux et indices de difficultés | A presentation by speech-language pathologists Stéphanie Breton and Myram Tremblay of the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine (available in French only).
  • Votre enfant apprend à parler (Jean-Adolphe Rondal), Éditions Mardaga, 1998, 110 p. |(available in French only) See Chapters 3 and 9. See also the tables titled: Développement de la prononciation (p. 35), Comment tester la prononciation de votre enfant (p. 38) and  Le développement du vocabulaire (p. 26)
  • Développement de la prononciation | A very well prepared article explaining in detail the acquisition of the 36 sounds of French, according to the child’s age and the difficulty of the sounds. It also gives benchmarks according to the child’s age, to determine whether or not to consult a pronunciation expert. Written by Geneviève Lemieux, a speech-language pathologist and author of  La soupe aux sous, a young readers’ book in which the main character, Zoé, has a pronunciation defect (she lisps) (available in French only).
  • Problèmes de prononciation typiques | About typical pronunciation problems for children aged one to three years old (available in French only).
  • Questions de parents sur les troubles de la parole et du langage | Parents’ questions about language difficulties in children aged three to five years old (available in French only).
  • Tableau de l’acquisition des sons du français selon l’âge (table of French sound acquisition according to age – available in French only).
  • Increase in Vocabulary Understood (graph of French vocabulary progression)