Helping Parents Make Better Decisions

Does My Child Have a Disability?

Is my child slow?

Does my child have a disability? 

Should I see a specialist?”

   Parents often worry at different points in their children’s lives that something is developmentally wrong. Parents should never feel their concerns are stupid, and all of their questions deserve answers. So where do you start and whom do you ask? 

   For parents concerned about their infant, toddler or preschooler, the American Speech Language and Hearing Association has developmental charts that can be printed and studied. With these charts, parents can compare their children’s language and communication behaviors to expected levels of development at specific ages. 

   Consider the parent who is concerned about her 2-year-old who knows only 10 words. On the chart, she will find that many 2-year-olds have a vocabulary of 100 to 200 words and are beginning to combine words to create short sentences. She might become anxious about the difference between her child’s skills and the skills described on the chart.

   Here, it is important to understand that normal development does not have exact ages and stages. Social environments and families as well as contextual experiences are so different that a child’s learning is going to be affected by his environment. Early childhood studies have shown that children who are exposed to their peers in play groups, nursery school programs and daycare centers have more advanced social behaviors. Additionally, language is often combined with vocalizations and gestures such as pointing to fill in when young children do not have the vocabulary to express their needs and ideas. So there will be differences. The question is, when does a difference signify a delay?
   Most of the time, a developmental difference of three to six months is not cause for alarm. However, a developmental difference of eight to 12 months often signals the need for early intervention.

The first professional to speak to is the pediatrician. If the pediatrician has concerns, she can direct parents to the appropriate clinical practitioners. For hearing issues, the pediatrician might make a referral to a local audiologist.  For language and communication concerns, a referral could be made to a speech language pathologist or speech and hearing center.  If there are behavioral concerns, a clinical psychologist might evaluate the child’s social development.

   There are also many parent-friendly guidebooks and online resources that provide valuable developmental information. Remember, don’t let your concerns be minimized. You know your child better than anyone else.


“What is Language? What is Speech?” (from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)

“Your Child’s Communication Development: Kindergarten Through Fifth Grade” (from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)

• “Typical Speech and Language Development” (from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)

• Beyond Baby Talk: From Sounds to Sentences, A Parent’s Complete Guide to Language Development by Kenn Apel, Ph.D., Julie Matherson, Ph.D.

The Late Talker: What to Do If Your Child Isn’t Talking Yet by Marilyn C. Agin, Lisa F. Geng and Malcolm Nichol

A Parent’s Guide to Developmental Delays: Recognizing and Coping with Missed Milestones in Speech, Movement, Learning, and Other Areas by Laurie Fivozinsky LeCorner

The Portable Pediatrician: A Practicing Pediatrician’s Guide to Your Child’s Growth, Development, Health and Behavior, from Birth to Age Five by Laura W. Nathanson

DR. ELLENMORRIS TIEGERMAN is the founder and executive director of the School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD). She has published extensively on autism, child language disorders, inclusion, collaboration and parent education. Since its founding in 1985, SLCD has helped thousands of children to communicate and return to their school districts.  

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