I see a lot on this site and all over the Internet about toddlers that are late to talk. The general consensus seems to be as long as they can understand when you talk to them then don't worry, they will talk when they are ready.

Well my child does not understand anything you say to him. He is 22 months old and doesn't seem to even understand when you call his own name. He doesn't appear to have any hearing problem either (Sometimes he turns to me when I whisper to him from across the room, but is just responding to the sound, and doesn't comprehend what I am saying). He seems to have his "own" language and is always talking/babbling but not saying any words. The fact that he doesn't understand anything we say is very worrisome.

He seems to have very good visual communication though, he knows when I put my shoes on it is time to leave and starts trying to open the front door. When I carry him to his room he knows its time for bed (because he doesn't like to go to bed and starts throwing a fit before I even get to his door.) He points to things he wants and if you reach your arms to him (even from across the room) he will come to you. Sometimes if he does something physical (eg: tumble down, pick his nose, put blocks together) if you respond by laughing/getting excited, he does it again and again to entertain you.

So the combination of very good non verbal communication but complete lack of verbal communication has me quite confused. Is this a sign of something?

// EDIT: an update note from the original author, dated June, 8th

I took my son to the dr. today and she said he should definitely be able to understand simple commands like "Give me" or "Come here" and since he cannot understand any verbal command, it is a cause for concern.

She gave me a number for early intervention so I can get him evaluated and get to the bottom of any underlying issue

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    I think with this, I'd see a paediatrician immediately. When you say he doesn't understand, can you give an example of something you. NOT A DOCTOR: I'd suspect some form of hearing issue, even if he's picking up on noise, but it could also be something on the autistic spectrum.
    – deworde
    Commented May 31, 2012 at 8:06
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    I agree with the suggestion of seeing a doctor to get the hearing checked. If you have severe hearing loss you'll still be able to hear some sounds, or for example hear that you are being called without hearing enough to understand words. Commented May 31, 2012 at 10:38
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    I took my son to the Dr. today and she said he should definitely be able to understand simple commands like "Give me" or "Come here" and since he cannot understand any verbal command, it is a cause for concern. She gave me a number for early intervention so I can get him evaluated and get to the bottom of any underlying issue.
    – Christina
    Commented Jun 9, 2012 at 16:51
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    @Padma - the advice is go see your paediatrician as there are so many possible causes. You need to have your child looked at, not follow what worked for someone else!
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 9:39
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    I have updated the original question with a status update from the author. She consulted a doctor. I suggest you do the same, medical advice from the Internet is rarely good.
    – Dariusz
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 5:19

9 Answers 9


I believe at this age kids are supposed to understand simple commands. I would be concerned and bring it up with the pediatrician. If you are in US your state's Early Intervention program should be able to do evaluation and let you know if he needs help.


Just because he can hear some things doesn't mean that he can hear all the frequencies needed to understand speech-- or to make clear speech.

It's time for a developmental assessment, including a hearing test and evaluation for early intervention for speech therapy and possibly other therapies as well.

If his hearing is normal, he could have a different language processing problem. Either way, speech therapy should help.


As the comments have said, don't be afraid to ask your pediatrician about it, since it worries you.

That said, can you give some more examples on why you feel that your son doesn't understand verbal communication? Whether you answer here or not is up to you, but very likely, your pediatrician will ask the same thing, so make sure you have examples prepared.

That said, with the information you've given us, I agree with deworde that it's very likely a hearing issue. It's entirely possible for someone with severe hearing impairment to hear some things, but not enough to understand what you're saying (my stepfather has about 20% hearing capability and can hear enough to know that you're saying something, even when he can't hear what you're saying). In those cases, it's often about pitch more than volume.

  • Other examples, well I ask him many things, I call his name and ask him to come here, I ask him to point to the block that is green, I tell him to stop doing something, etc. He either ignores me completely or babbles something back at me but does not indicated in any way they he comprehends what I am saying. I tell him its time for bed, but he does not realize its time for bet until I start walking him to his room. I tell him we are about to eat or that food is ready but he doesn't seem to understand until I show him the food.
    – Christina
    Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 0:14

This is anecdotal, but: One of my cousins had a similar problem when he was a child. He was late to understand speech, and his speech was absolutely unintelligible to his parents and other adults. His older sister and brother actually translated for him.

It turned out that he did have a hearing problem. As best I understand it, he had a form of Auditory Processing Disorder, which is kind of like hearing dyslexia. In his case, the problem was corrected with a combination of surgery and therapy. His late start in communication didn't cause him any long term problems.

I mention that last because according to this article from Kid's Health, APD is difficult to diagnose with infants and may not be diagnosable until a child is 7 or 8 years old. I think my cousin was 5 before they figured out specifically what the issue was.

If you are concerned that he hasn't begun to talk yet, I don't think that that alone is cause for alarm. According to the speech experts I've either read or spoken to, a two-year-old boy who doesn't talk is not unusual. But if you are worried about something like ADP, there's no harm in bringing that up with his pediatrician at his 24 month appointment. I might keep some notes or even shoot some video that demonstrates your specific concerns.


My son is 25 months and only speaking some words but doesn't seem to comprehend a lot of things but is very active and intrested in everything. I just had him evaluated at early interventions he will be starting speech therapy and social intervention therapy next month and should help tremendously i would recommend getting an evaluation done i feel better already by doing so... good luck


Your child may have Speech Apraxia. It's a non-self-correcting condition where the speech signals from the brain get messed up. Starting speech therapy might be the right choice for you and your child, but before you do anything, please speak with your pediatrician or better, get your child evaluated by a speech therapist. Many times a pediatrician will tell you to wait, but waiting may not be the best thing. A pediatrician is not a speech therapist, so go to the expert (the speech therapist) and get your child evaluated. Good Luck!

  • I would say on this that Apraxia does interfere with expressive language but does not necessarily interfere with understanding. Quite often, those with Apraxia have a level of understanding far surpassing their expressive capability. I just note this because the OP said the level of understanding is low.
    – demongolem
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 11:09
  • @demongolem I agree. Comprehension is not necessarily a symptom of Apraxia. The child should be evaluated by a professional. The sooner the better. It's never too early. Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 12:40

Talking to your pediatrician is always a good idea for concerns like this. That said, are you certain that your toddler is not understanding you? We have a 21 mo boy and your description generally fits his behavior. However, occasionally, he seems to clearly understand what we say. But, he is selective in what he listens to and what he seems to ignore. For example, 1/2 hour before bedtime, we were in a playroom and I told him "lets go to bed" and he very clearly said "nah!" (which is his way of saying "no") But, there were many other things I said to him where he didn't seem to react in any meaningful way.

FWIW, our (21 mo) son knows how to say four words: "no", "yes", "boots", and "ball" (but he has his own special way of saying each).


Not speaking with 22 months is late, but not exceptionally rare. You should talk to your GP about your concerns and consider having an assessment by a speech pathologist. Speech pathologists can evaluate your child's language skills and advise on techniques you can use to encourage speech development.


Talk to your doctor and get a diagnosis. If might be simple, short and easily fixed. My daughter spent nine months going to speech therapy in kindergarten, and that was it.

In the case that your child has a learning disability that requires speech or language therapy, your local school district must provide it from age 3 through 18 or 21 at no cost to you beyond the taxes you already pay to support your schools. Federal law requires services be provided from birth through age 3, but what agency provides it may vary. Find a friendly special education teacher in your area and ask informally how the system works.

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