what’s "average" when it comes to speech emergence?

A friend of mine has a son who started speech therapy last week. The boy is 18 months old, and his pediatrician referred him because he hasn’t starting to talk yet. These first-time parents are slightly distraught and not sure who to believe: the doctor or all the people who are telling them to just give the little one some more time. But they signed their son up for speech therapy in their school district so he can learn how to sign.
Our little guy is approaching 20 months of age, but he only says an occasionally word amid his wide range of sounds. I think he’s on the verge of figuring this speech thing out without the help of a therapist. It’s really pretty miraculous when you think about it. Babies come into the world with this blank slate, as it were. After less than a year of listening to language, one day they start babbling and then producing real words– in fits and starts at first, but then whole strings of words, sentences even.
So far, our son can follow simple commands like, “Give this to daddy.” He has mastered the “caw” of a crow and does a pretty good imitation of a cow and a car sound. He’s able to communicate a fair amount without words. When he wants milk, he grabs the fridge handle. When he wants food, he starts poking around in the cupboard. When he wants to go outside, he points to the door or brings us his shoes. Last week when his daddy was putting his shoes on to take him out, he expressed his thanks by kissing him repeatedly. And when I was reprimanding him, he gave me a big, sloppy kiss on the lips mid-sentence. It achieved the desired result. How can one remain stern after such a cute gesture?
He wasn’t producing 20 words by 18 months so he is considered lagging behind the “average” child, but not so slow that we’re worried about delayed speech or language development. Not yet. It helps that he’s our second.
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