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My wife and I have two boys: a 3-yr old toddler and an 8-month old infant. The toddler is doing extremely well with all physical/motor and emotional/intellectual/communication aspects.

My 8-month old, physically, is also right where he should be. He's crawling, sits up by himself, is starting to pull himself up on to things (yikes), rolls over, picks stuff up with both hands, etc. No concerns there whatsoever.

We also have a copy of the de facto standard, Baby 411, which cites a whole slew of autism screening questions, and again, absolutely no concerns on the autism front: he makes strong eye contact, enjoys being around us and his older brother, cuddles with stuffed animals, is not "off in his own world", etc. No concerns.


What I am becoming concerned about is his language/communication skills. This is one area where we've seen relatively no development since he was a newborn. On one hand:

  • He does squeal and laugh when he's really worked up and happy
    • Extremely rarely, we'll get a quick "Ahhh" (vowels only, no consonants)
  • He cries when he's upset
  • He absolutely can hear (we've tested this thoroughly - sneaking up behind him and making a noise to see if he turns his head, etc.)
  • He does seem to respond to his name by making eye contact with us

But, on the other hand:

  • He's 8 months old, and not a single consonant sound (not a single "Ba" or "Ga"), etc.
  • When we engage him isolated and directly (without our toddler there to disrupt), he just doesn't seem interested in communicating back and forth with us; either that, or he just doesn't "get" that he can try to engage us back; it just doesn't occur to him

Finally, my question:

If you ask the Google Gods "8 month old not babbling when to worry"-and similar queries, you'll get an ocean of blogs and forums of parents with identical stories to ours. And in almost every case they get the same regurgitated/canned responses:

All babies are different and acquire skills at different rates.

Yes, I understand that, but: if my son is still not verbal at, say, 30 years of age, clearly something is wrong. So my point is that, at some point between 8 months and 30 years of age, he'll cross over a barrier where it's no longer acceptable to just chalk his lack of communication up to "All babies are different."

So my question(s) is:

  • What is this barrier/when is this point? At what age do you finally worry that he may have some learning disability, or something else going on?
  • Once a child crosses over this barrier, what are some concrete/actual causes for lack of communication (when neither autism nor physical/hearing disability are present)?

Update 3/9/2016:

About 3 weeks after posting this question, my son started babbling and using consonants (of course!). He's now 11 months and jabbers/babbles constantly, says "Da!" when he looks at me, and occassionally acknowledges my wife as "Mom!" (lol). So he's not quite at "Dada/Mama" yet, but I have faith he'll be there soon. I'll post updates to this from time to time as I think it may help other parents.

Update 10/4/2016:

Our little guy is 18 months old now and is exactly where he should be on the milestone chart (below, under the accepted answer). He barely made a noise for the first 8 - 9 months, then started becoming more and more verbal in his 9th/10th month. And now he's got a repetoire of dozens of words that he says with correct annunciation (more or less) and under the right circumstances. He's even starting to put 2- and 3-word sentences together (I love you, etc.).

All this to say, that we're no longer even remotely worried about him, and I advise any other parents with the same concerns that we had to read through all the answers to this question. The accepted answer was truly the best, but many of the other upvoted answers provided a lot of great guidance and emotional support.

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    This might be better separated into two questions. – anongoodnurse Nov 25 '15 at 5:22
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    I'm told I didn't start talking until my second birthday. No "ma-ma", no "da-da", no sounds at all. When I started talking it was in complete sentences - according to my parents my first utterance was, "No! I don't want any of that!". (Broccoli has never been negotiable :-). So relax - the kid's fine, he'll talk when he's ready... – Bob Jarvis Nov 25 '15 at 14:04
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    Also - my mom told me a story about a boy she baby-sat when she was in high school. This youngster was five years old and wouldn't talk - he'd just point and grunt. But he paid attention to what was said and apparently understood things quite well. My mother decided that she was not going to be grunted at by a five-year-old and told him, "You want something? You tell me what it is". The kid pointed and grunted. She told him the rules again. He pointed and grunted louder. She just looked at him. Finally the kid hung his head and said, "Milk, please". :-) – Bob Jarvis Nov 25 '15 at 16:53
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    @BobJarvis Made me lol. Amazingly similar to one of my daughters who simply wasn't interested in talking until one say when she told us, in a proper sentence, that she wanted a banana. So ordinary that the shock came a few seconds later, after I had already said "ok, here you go" and was reaching for it. Quite a shocker, even now just remembering it! – zxq9 Nov 25 '15 at 17:14
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    @zxq9 - I'm told that my mother's response to my first utterance was, "Eat it anyways!". Yep - definitely a defining moment in our relationship. :-} – Bob Jarvis Nov 25 '15 at 17:23
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This is a clip of the Denver II Developmental Milestones checklist:

enter image description here

If you draw a vertical line from the slash in dada/mama specific and the "c" in dada/mama non-specific, you'll have the 8 month old line.

The white rectangle is "average"; the blue one means "late but still normal". Falling off the blue box means "possibly prudent to follow-up". There it is in black, white, and blue. Your baby is fine, because he says "aaaah", which is a syllable.

You're asking for a black and white answer (exactly where between 8 months and 30 years), but the truth is, there is no black and white answer. There is only the whole picture. One study tried to correlate infant language acquisition milestones (as well as the other three categories of acquisition) to later cognitive ability, and failed pretty spectacularly.

The age of reaching developmental milestones was associated with intellectual performance at ages 8, 26, and 53 years; for every month earlier a child learned to stand, there was, on average, a gain of one half of one intelligence quotient point at age 8. Speech development had a small but statistically significant effect on subsequent educational attainment (later developers were less likely to progress beyond basic education); this effect was not apparent for motor development. Effect sizes were reduced when the slowest developers were excluded, but many effects remained significant.

Here, "significant" is clearly in the eyes of the researcher; the truth is there was no conclusion except this may be important, but we're not at all able to prove it.

There is no age-specific correct answer to your question. Fortunately or unfortunately, it depends on all the other pieces of information available.

What some causes are for lack of communication is, I think, a separate question.

Infant developmental milestones and subsequent cognitive function

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    This is great/reassuring, thanks @anongoodnurse (+1). A few quick followups if you don't mind: (1) Is this "Denver II Development Milestone" still in 2015 regarded as a valid standard? In other words, if I bring this in to our pediatrician, is there a strong likelihood she will give it merit, or is there a chance she'll tell us "This hasn't been a valid standard since the 70s!"? (2) Maybe its because I'm still waking up, but what is the difference between "Dada/Mama Non-Specific" and "Dada/Mama Specific"? And (3) Ditto for "Combine Syllables" vs "Jabbers"? Thanks again! – smeeb Nov 25 '15 at 7:46
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    I'm guessing what he means with specific / non-specific is whether the baby is saying 'dada' to anyone or indeed to his/her father. My son was making lots of attempts at speaking at about 9 - 12 months and at 18 months we could have rudimentary conversations. My daughter on the other hand hardly ever said anything until she was almost two years old. She still does not talk as much as he does. I hear it's also often the case that younger siblings speak less and let the older sibling do the talking for them. – Stijn de Witt Nov 25 '15 at 14:01
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    “Here, "significant" is clearly in the eyes of the researcher,” uh, no. “Significant” has a very specific definition in science, namely being statistically significant. There may be some problems, even major problems, in the statistical modeling of any given research effort (and indeed, a few researchers have claimed such modeling problems are widespread), but nonetheless if the researcher is making a claim of “significance,” that has a specific, empirically-measurable definition, and claiming it when you don’t actually have it could be fraud. – KRyan Nov 25 '15 at 16:03
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    Namely, "statistically significant" results means that you have observed some results that, if your competing hypothesis (the "null hypothesis") was true, should occur with some very low probability chosen ahead of time. p<5% (95% confidence) is statistically significant for some tests (five heads with no tails tells you the coin is probably loaded). Some properties of the Higgs boson have been verified with confidence > 99.9%. – John Dvorak Nov 25 '15 at 16:40
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    @anongoodnurse That’s all true. Doesn’t make the statement that I quoted any more true, however. It’s not just the researcher’s opinion – it’s backed up by something, even if that something is not all we’d hope it to be. Your claim to the contrary undermines the usefulness not just of this study, but literally of all science, which is why I think that statement should be removed, or else a better, more accurate statement as to the limitations of significance should be substituted in its place. – KRyan Nov 25 '15 at 19:54
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Development checklists. Phooey. You can never really know what is right for a baby.

...but as a parent, it can sure make you wonder!

I've got lots of kids, and even more nephews and nieces. So far they have all turned out well. So let me give you a few drastically contrasting histories.

Some totally unclinical, anecdotal histories:

First daughter: Never crawled. Not once. She sat up on her own at about 5 months, but not by the half-rolling sort of way babies normally do. She would push her upper body with her arms and scramble her legs forward until they were forward of her hands and plop down like a monkey. She would then usually topple over until she was almost 7 months old. She babbled incessantly, played with noises and was intensely curious about sounds. She spoke well formed words before she was a year old and had an amazing grasp of Japanese and English grammar before she was 2 (I live in Japan, hence the two language thing).

Second daughter: She didn't care much about sitting up for a very long time, and only crawled a little bit. Instead she would look at where she wanted to go and roll there. Which was hilarious, but a little alarming -- until my mother told me I used to do the exact same thing, and so did my brother's daughter in Texas. She wasn't interested in sounds at all. She made almost no babbling noises, very rarely vocalized anything, and didn't even cry much. When she was a little over a year old, though, it was clear that she understood what we were talking about when we addressed her -- but never spoke. In contrast to the first daughter we were a little worried, but figured it would turn out however it would turn out. She didn't say much until she was about 20 months old. Once she turned two, she just suddenly started saying full sentences. We don't even know what her first word was. It really seems like the first thing she said was "I want a banana." (well, actually バナナが欲しい -- but the whole family has an internal pidgin at this point, so it doesn't matter.)

Niece: Noisy as anything. Difficult baby. Crawled, rolled, played with anything that wasn't a toy... but was never interested in sitting up or standing. She was really noisy, but never made more than random babbling noises until she was almost three. Then, suddenly, words started coming out.

Third daughter: Shocking similarities to first daughter (she's almost 1 now and has started saying words at random).

Nephew: Textbook example of the roll/crawl/stand/walk system laid out in the "this is a normal baby" type books. But never said a word. Barely even cried. Didn't play with sounds. Liked to bounce with music, but just never vocalized anything until he was almost four.

Now I make my point

All of these kids took (or are taking) their own path. They have all turned out just amazingly well. Super capable kids. Every one of them is engaging, intelligent, and doing well in studies and athletics (typical caveats about kids not enjoying tedious tasks apply, of course).

As you have more kids the differences will stop making you worry and start making you laugh. I've got kids 14, 10, 9, 5, 3, and 0, and the nephew above is now 10 and niece now 8. They are all doing just fine. If something is really wrong with them you will notice and it won't be ambiguous. Sometimes something that is really wrong will only turn up later, like when engaging in early study or trained athletics (around 4 or 5). Until then unless something is just clearly scary wrong then you have nothing to worry about. If you're worried, but not about anything specific, just generally wondering, go talk to a pediatrician or (even better) your mother or grandmother.

Its an adventure. Nothing you mentioned in your story is anything other than good comedic material for later in life.

  • Thanks a lot @zxq9 (+1) - I appreciate the anecdotes and see your point. Especially your comment that "If something is really wrong with them you will notice and it won't be ambiguous"; as a somewhat-experienced parent I totally get that. I can't give you the green check because the other answer here is pretty science-ey and definitive, but I definitely appreciate you taking the time to assuage me a bit. – smeeb Nov 25 '15 at 15:18
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    @smeeb No worries. I'm just glad my answer didn't put you to sleep! Have fun goofing around with the kids! :-) – zxq9 Nov 25 '15 at 17:15
  • +1 for "go talk to a pediatrician". We've worried about things before, like our second walking waaay later than first, and currently behind where he was in talking by quite a bit too. Your doctor should never make you feel bad for asking, and they tend to know their stuff. They have a checklist. And both times we've been worried that answers been "well, maybe they're a little behind there, but thy're fine on all this and ahead on these so I see no reason to worry." I'm all about "just quit worrying and go ask." – Cody Crumrine Mar 11 '16 at 13:57
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I just wanted to add a slight counterpoint to zxq9's answer, as I'm not sure it's correct that if something's wrong it won't be ambiguous. There are plenty of conditions that only become obvious when the ability gap between a child and their peers has widened quite a bit, but which could be handled better if the child was given some support before then. A quick look at SEN parents' forums will show that it's common for parents to say things like "If only I'd acted on my suspicions when she was younger rather than letting it all come to a head" or to be annoyed about being fobbed off with "He'll grow out of it, he's just younger in his year group" etc by kind people trying to be reassuring when actually the child was showing early signs of a learning difficulty and could have done with some help.

So while I agree that it does sound like your baby is fine and just doing things at his own pace here, I'd also like to point out that if you still have concerns a few months down the line, there's nothing wrong with getting the opinion of a speech therapist. If your baby does have a problem, getting it diagnosed early could do a lot to prevent it becoming a big problem, and if he doesn't, no harm done.

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    A quick look at forums will demonstrate a tendency to vicarious hypochondria and, interestingly, self-blame. "If I'd only acted sooner"... as if they can know that! I've seen too many parents critically damage their normal kids by neglecting them in every important way while they squander their time, money and attention chasing something they fear about "the troubled child" because they didn't speak before 2 years of age. A kid with a genuine disability is stuck with it for life. A kid smarter than others is stuck too. Life can suck either way. People are different. Its not all Mom's fault. – zxq9 Nov 26 '15 at 11:33
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    I absolutely don't mean to imply that it's the parents' fault! The self blame is certainly not helpful. I just meant that you don't have to wait 'til a problem is big and obvious before doing something about it, just because it's still possible that the kid is fine and will grow out of it on their own. It's a good point that taking things too far the other way could be bad too, I was just trying to say that if you feel that something's wrong, don't be afraid of getting a qualified professional to check, that's what they're there for. – Juniper83 Nov 26 '15 at 15:32
  • Indeed! I wanted to point out the emotional cycle involved -- especially the unknowable nature of "fault" and the tendency to self-blame whenever the "If only I had..." sort of thinking gets involved. I think now between my answer, your counterpoint, and this exchange here you and I have touched on enough areas to balance perspectives on the issue in a slightly more rounded way. The critical point, in my view, is that neither you nor I nor other parents intend anything but the best for the kids, yet there is a huge range of ways we can get tripped up if we lose balance in our approach. – zxq9 Nov 26 '15 at 23:22
  • @Juniper83 - That is an incredibly valuable message; the single most reliable early indicator that there's a problem with a child is the parent's (the mother's, actually) gut feeling that something is not right. When a parent is really concerned, so should the physician be. – anongoodnurse Nov 27 '15 at 0:23
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I'd like to chime in and answer your original question. You wanted to know the cutoff point between birth and say 30 years of age at which there's a real problem. I took cultural anthropology in college and one of the things we discussed was feral children who were raised with wild animals, etc because their parents dropped them off in the woods or kept them isolated from human contact. One piece of information we learned was that if a child doesn't learn to speak by 6 years of age, they never will. There are two centers of the brain that need a pathway for communication between them: the wernickes and brocas areas. These two centers of the brain are responsible for speech and syntax. If this pathway is not developed properly, speech is not possible.

  • I wish you would ask a question because this site discourages asking questions inside answers, so we would both be closed down. If you get downvoted, it is not because your qustion or info is wrong, but because you have not used the site the way it is meant to be used. – WRX Feb 16 '17 at 20:39
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    A baby raised in the woods by animals also wouldn't hear speech... so I don't know that this necessarily applies to kids raised in a household with adults who speak normally. As in the examples above with kids who don't babble at all and then start with complete sentences - often the ability is there but the urge to use it is not, so they do not. – Catija Feb 16 '17 at 22:37
  • Hi Natalie - as Willow said, part of your answer was actually asking a question, which is not the way this site works. It isn't a discussion forum. So I have removed that bit, and kept the section where you answer. – Rory Alsop Feb 18 '17 at 15:51

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