Our son is now 16 months old and does not know any words yet. He doesn't seem to understand anything we say either.

He makes plenty of talking sounds, he looks at you and babbles but no words.

We keep hearing about plenty other babies younger then him that are already communicating, saying at least 5 words and understanding more than that. This is making us worried there is something wrong.

He does a lot of physical mimicking though, for example, if we pick up a toy and touch it to our nose, then give it to him, he will touch it to our nose as well. And similar things like that.

Are we just being paranoid? Are there any exercises we could do to help stimulate his development in communicating?

This is both of ours first kid so we are pretty inexperienced.

4 Answers 4


Not every child develops at the same rate, and it may not indicate a problem if your child is behind on one or two milestones.

Most children do speak 5 or more words by 15 months. As I understand it, though, it isn't particularly uncommon for children to be a bit behind on this.

Perhaps more troubling is your statement that your son doesn't seem to understand anything you say, either.

Does he use gestures besides mimicking what you do? Does he point when he wants something? Reach for you when he wants to be picked up? Wave good bye? These are all forms of communication that are indicators to look for.

Warning Signs of a Possible Problem

If you're concerned about your child's speech and language development, there are some things to watch for.

An infant who isn't responding to sound or who isn't vocalizing is of particular concern. Between 12 and 24 months, reasons for concern include a child who:

  • isn't using gestures, such as pointing or waving bye-bye by 12 months

  • prefers gestures over vocalizations to communicate by 18 months

  • has trouble imitating sounds by 18 months

  • has difficulty understanding simple verbal requests

Even if your son is using gestures to communicate, you may want to mention his vocabulary to your pediatrician. Even if there is no cause for concern, it will provide more reassurance to hear it from a professional.

As for what you might do to help your son learn: - first and foremost, talk to him. Use full sentences, and talk about anything and everything. Most of early language development comes from the child listening to adult speech. The more you say, the more he learns.

  • listen to what he says. When he babbles at you, listen quietly, then respond as if he had just said something very important. Make up in your head whatever you like for what you think he said. It doesn't matter if you pretend he was discussing politics or the events of the day, but responding as if he said something meaningful models conversational behavior, and helps in the learning process.

  • Read to him. The more you can read to him, the better. If he doesn't have interest in books, make up stories. Just so long as you are talking to him. The more he hears you talk, the faster he can pick it up.

  • 1
    You can also "read" to him by looking at picture books and talking about what you see, and ask him to point at something on the page. Commented Dec 11, 2011 at 11:59
  • Also keep in mind that in general, boys develop language more slowly than girls.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 18:35
  • I agree with talking to him. Every moment you're with him, narrate what you're doing.
    – Marc
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 2:07

Here in CT there is free service for children birth to three where professionals will come and evaluate your child. I would look into this where you live.

As well, if your child is not communicating or understanding it may not be a language deficiency, it may be a hearing problem. I strongly recommend getting his hearing checked!

  • Thanks. Do you know what the name of the service is?
    – JD Isaacks
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 15:54
  • @JohnIsaacks in Connecticut it is called Birth to Three, I am sure other states have programs similar to it. We used it for both our son and daughter, both of whom had different speech problems and found them very helpful and right on target in terms of their recommendation. Also, if you do need services they have a rolling pay schedule depending on your income, so it is a great program. Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 15:56
  • 3
    In many areas it is called early early intervention. Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 18:13

I know this is an old question, but in case anyone else searches and finds it I'd like to mention that at 16 months a child who is using no verbal language, and which the parents suspect the child doesn't understand verbal language, is a definite cause for concern.

The best way to go about handling the concern is to contact your state (or county) Early Intervention program. Generally Googling:

city, state early intervention

Will yield the results you need. For example, the Early Intervention program for the OP's area is:


Early Intervention is provided free of charge to families in USA school systems as part of IDEA. They will assess your child in all areas of development and inform you of the results. Each program has different qualification criteria, some more stringent than others. An example of qualifying criteria would be 25% delay in one or more areas. So if the child is 16 months of age and scores an age equivalent of 12 months or below, that child would be eligible for services in that program.

Considering the specifics of the question, it would be remiss of me not to mention that the CDC recommends complete hearing evaluations every year for children with no risk factors for hearing loss, and every six months for children with risk factors (for example, language delay).


Not speaking at 16 months is not that big a deal. There are plenty of harmless reasons for a speech delay, including for example multiple languages spoken at home. Einstein supposedly didn't speak until age 3 or 4.

Not understanding what you say is a much bigger deal, as it normally happens much earlier, but is difficult to test for as a first time parent. One thing you can test for is whether the child can hear you: do something loud that the child responds to when he can see you, like clapping or ringing a bell, which does not transmit vibrations through the floor, then do the same thing when the child is facing away from you and see if there's still a response. If not, get his hearing tested pronto - the earlier hearing problems are identified, the more chance of a successful intervention.

If his hearing is okay, but he never responds to simple requests - like offering a favorite food - you'll want to get further testing. I would start by getting recommendations from your pediatrician in that case.

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