As children develop, their need to communicate grows as well. At very young ages, a toddler may use single words to communicate his/her needs and wants. It is very common for a 1 year old to say “ball” or “mommy”. Based on typical development, we expect children to start communicating with phrases or sentences instead of single words as they get older.
When talking about sentence length in children, Speech Language Pathologists often use the term “mean length of utterance” or MLU. The MLU is the average length of sentences that a child typically uses in day to day speech. For example, if a child only uses one word like “hi” or “ball”, their MLU is 1.0. If the child uses two words like “my ball”, their MLU is 1.5.
If you are worried that your child is only using single words instead of creating phrases or sentences, there is a lot you can do to help increase their mean length of utterance (MLU).
- Seek out a Speech Language Pathologist
An SLP will be able to assess your child’s MLU and provide guidance on strategies and goals that can be used with your child.
- Increase your Child’s vocabulary!
A child’s early vocabulary is usually full of nouns which are hard to combine if you are making a sentence. Encourage your child to learn verbs, verbs, possessives, question words, descriptive words, etc. This can be done through games, books, and commenting on daily activities.
- Use Grammatical Markers
Children with speech and language delays often use shorter sentences because they don’t yet grasp how to use grammatical markers. They may say “want cookie” instead of “I want a cookie please”. Encourage use of grammar with fun games like dress up, Mr. Potato Head, and Grammar Gorillas.
- Model, Model, Model!
You can help your child increase their sentence length by expanding on their words and phrases. For example, if your child says “ball” you can encourage them by saying “red ball” or “my ball”. It doesn’t matter which words you use to expand the sentence. As long as you model longer sentences, your child will eventually start to pick up on your cues.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech, always reach out to a Speech Language Pathologist for guidance or a formal assessment.
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