What do the CDC Developmental Milestone updates mean?

Speech Sisters
March 21, 2022

Have you heard about the new CDC developmental milestone updates? If so, how do you feel about them?For the first time in nearly two decades, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has updated their developmental milestone checklist. The language/communication milestone revisions have many Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs) and parents concerned. The CDC’s updated guidelines have lowered expectations for developmental milestones, pushing back many of the language milestones to later ages. For example, the CDC now says that by 30 months of age, children should have learned 50 words, while the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) suggests that children should have 50 words by 24 months of age.

While these updates were intended to make it easier for parents and pediatricians to identify delays, we are concerned that it will have the opposite effect. Here is why:

Parents rely on these milestones to gauge where their child stands in their development. If the markers are moved to a later age, then early intervention (EI) may be delayed. As an SLP and advocate for early intervention, this is VERY concerning.

Lowering language expectations may result in the following problems:

  1. Parents may not be as proactive.
  2. Parents may “wait and see” longer than they should before seeking out EI services.
  3. Early intervention may be delayed or missed. EI waitlists can be long, and if delayed, one may encounter a missed opportunity.
  4. Missed EI for a child in need may contribute to lack of school readiness.
  5. Research shows a correlation between late talkers and later academic/literacy struggles.

Additionally, a child’s brain grows fastest in the first 3 years of life. Recent brain research indicates that 0-3 years are the most important years in a child’s development. This is why early intervention is crucial and should begin prior to 36 months of age.


You know your child better than anyone. Go with your gut. If you feel that your child needs extra support in the area of speech and language, we urge you to reach out to a speech-language pathologist. Remember, you are your child’s best advocate!EARLY INTERVENTION CAN HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON A CHILD’S ENTIRE DEVELOPMENTAL TRAJECTORY.The following charts depict language milestones derived from validated, standardized developmental screening tools and assessments. These are followed by the new CDC developmental milestone updates guidelines.*12 MONTHS OLDLANGUAGE MILESTONES

  • Understands a simple command with gestures
  • Says “a few” words
  • Looks in the direction of familiar items when named
  • Tries to imitate sounds
  • Points or reaches toward wanted items
  • Babbles with inflection


  • Waves “bye-bye”
  • Calls a parent “mama” or “dada” or another special name
  • Understands “no” (pauses briefly or stops when you say it)


  • Tries to imitate a word
  • Says 3-5 words besides “mama” or “dada”
  • Uses jargon (strings sounds together in speech-like patterns)
  • Identifies 1-3 body parts
  • Identifies at least one object/action in a book


  • Tries to say one or two words besides “mama” or “dada”
  • Looks at a familiar object when named
  • Follows directions given with both a gesture and words
  • Points to request


  • Imitates words more frequently
  • Says at least 10 words (but may have up to 50+ words)
  • Uses words plus gestures when communicating
  • Answers basic “what” questions
  • Points to a few named objects/actions in a book
  • Protest by shaking head or saying “no”


  • Tries to say three or more words besides “mama” or “dada”
  • Follows one-step directions without any gestures, like giving you the toy when you say, “Give it to me.”


  • Says at least 50 words (but may have up to 300+ words)
  • Imitates new words (consistently
  • Combines 2 words together
  • Names familiar objects
  • Starts to ask & answer basic questions verbally (they may ask, “What’s that?”)
  • Follows a simple 2-step command
  • Understands verbs like “sleep,” eat,” or “throw”


  • Points to things in a book when you ask, “Where is the bear?”
  • Says at least two words together, like “More milk.”
  • Points to at least two body parts when you ask
  • Uses more gestures than just waving and pointing, like blowing a kiss or nodding yes


  • Says hundreds of words (but may have up to 1000+ words)
  • Uses 2–4-word phrases
  • Asks and answers “what” and “where” questions verbally (child may ask, “Where’s mama?”)
  • Understnads and uses many pronouns (I, my, mine, you)
  • Follows a 2-3 step command
  • Points to named objects and actions in books or pictures (consistently)


  • Says about 50 words
  • Says two or more words, with one action word, like “Doggie run”
  • Names things in a book when you point and ask, “What is this?”
  • Says words like, “I,” “me,” or “we”

Take our popular 2-minute quiz and we’ll give you a personalized plan to help your child’s speech development.To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!

*Note: The CDC revised these guidelines using research and data from Zubler et al. (See below.)Zubler, J. M., Wiggins, L. D., Macias, M. M., Whitaker, T. M., Shaw, J. S., Squires, J. K., Pajek, J. A., Wolf, R. B., Slaughter, K. S., Broughton, A. S., Gerndt, K. L., Mlodoch, B. J., & Lipkin, P. H. (2022). Evidence-informed milestones for developmental surveillance tools. Pediatrics. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2021-052138https://www.theinformedslp.com/review/no-sl-ps-were-in-the-room-where-it-happenedhttps://www.instagram.com/reel/CaU94wQpnX2/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

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