Updated: Jun 1, 2022
This is a question that many parents often have. Most of the time, parents’ gut instinct is to seek help, but others tell them to “wait and see”. After all, he will catch up, right? This can be a very confusing situation for parents who want to do the best for their child.
The “wait-and-see” approach to children who talk late is a result of misconceptions about typical language development. “All children develop at their own pace” is another common phrase parents come across when looking for an explanation for a child’s delayed development. While children do develop at their own pace to some extent, we know that there are certain milestones which should be reached by a specific age. When they are not reached, this becomes cause for concern. While some children seem to catch up on their own, others do not.
Introducing the “Late Talker”?
A “Late Talker” is a toddler (between 18-30 months) who has good understanding of language, typically developing play skills, motor skills, thinking skills, and social skills, but has a limited spoken vocabulary for his or her age. The difficulty late talking children have is specifically with spoken or expressive language. This group of children can be very puzzling because they have all of the building blocks for spoken language, yet they don’t talk or talk very little.
Important Language Milestones
The following guidelines can help you determine if your child’s vocabulary is appropriate for his or her age. If your child has not yet reached these milestones, he or she should be seen by a speech-language pathologist:
18 month olds should use least 20 words, including different types of words, such as nouns (“baby”, “cookie”), verbs (“eat”, “go”), prepositions (“up”, “down”), adjectives (“hot”, “sleepy”), and social words (“hi”, “bye”).
24 month olds should use at least 100 words and combine 2 words together. These word combinations should be generated by the child, and not be combinations that are “memorized chunks” of language, such as “thank you”, “bye bye”, “all gone”, or “What’s that?”. Examples of true word combinations would be “doggie gone”, “eat cookie”, or “dirty hands”.
Do Children who are Late Talkers Catch Up on their Own?
Because this group of children is progressing so well in other areas of development, parents and others may assume that they will catch up on their own. Indeed, many late talkers do appear to “grow out of it”, but many do not. Many advance to experiencing a language disorders.
Here is a list of risk factors has been identified, which suggest that a child is more likely to have continuing language difficulties.
quiet as an infant; little babbling
a history of ear infections
limited number of consonant sounds (eg. p, b, m, t, d, n, y, k, g, etc.)
does not link pretend ideas and actions together while playing
does not imitate (copy) words
uses mostly nouns (names of people, places, things), and few verbs (action words)
difficulty playing with peers (social skills)
a family history of communication delay, learning or academic difficulties
a mild comprehension (understanding) delay for his or her age
uses few gestures to communicate
If a toddler has a limited vocabulary for his age and any of the above risk factors, we recommend consulting a speech-language pathologist. Children who demonstrate the final three risk factors above (family history, comprehension problems, or few gestures) are at greatest risk for a continuing language delay. Instead of adopting a “let’s wait and see” approach, I recommend getting help for toddlers who are late to talk as early as possible.
What about the group of late talkers who seem to catch up on their own without intervention? Even though a large percentage of these children appear to catch up to their peers by the time they enter school, studies are showing that this group of children do not perform as well as their peers in certain aspects of language use such as language complexity and grammar Therefore, it is recommended that intervention is provided to all toddlers presenting as Late Talkers, in order to prevent further language difficulties later on.
What Should you do if your Child is a Late Talker?
If you think your child may be a late talker, it’s never too early to seek help. We know that the earlier we start to help children, the better their outcomes.
Consult a speech-language pathologist about your concerns. (I’m available.)
Have your child’s hearing evaluated - even if you think your child is hearing just fine, it is important to make sure he is hearing sounds at a variety of volumes and pitches. Even slight hearing impairments can cause difficulties with speech and language development.
Email me for information about my next parent training program, where I teach parents how to help Late Talkers increase language skills through everyday home activities.