What To Do If Your Child Is a Late Talker - Baby Chick
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What To Do If Your Child Is a Late Talker

Learn what a "late talker" is, the potential causes of it, what to do if your child is a late talker, and when to seek help.

Updated July 11, 2024

by Jocelyn M. Wood, MA, CCC-SLP

Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist MA, CCC-SLP

When it comes to a child who’s a late talker, developmental milestones can be a source of worry and confusion. Add to that the mix of information from well-meaning family, friends, and physicians, such as:

  • “Boys just develop a little later than girls.”
  • “Einstein was a late talker, and look at him!”
  • Big sister is probably doing all the talking!”
  • “Don’t worry. They’ll catch up!”

Although there may be some truth to these things, parents know best about their children. And if you’re feeling worried, you will want a solid plan of action. So, let’s explore what a late talker is, what causes it, how a speech-language pathologist can help, and more on this topic.

What Is a “Late Talker”?

A “late talker” is a toddler in the age range of 18-30 months who takes longer to start speaking verbally than what’s normal for their age and gender.1,2 Although they may understand language, they have difficulty expressing themselves with words and have a limited vocabulary.1 The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) says this delay occurs in children without disabilities or developmental issues in other areas.4

What Causes Late Talking? 

Because late talking is so prevalent, with approximately 14% of children aged 18-30 months classified this way, there’s a lot of information about potential causes, including:

  • Family history: If one or both parents were late talkers, chances are, their child will also experience delays in speaking.3
  • Difference between boys and girls: Girls typically have more words than boys at 16 months (95 words versus 25 words).5 Boys are also three times more likely to be late talkers than girls.4
  • Sibling order: Older siblings can help provide rich language opportunities for younger siblings. However, they can also do a lot of the talking for their younger siblings, causing a slight language delay.3 Twins have a 38% chance of being late talkers.2

Will Late Talkers Catch Up?

According to ASHA, 50-70% of late talkers will catch up to their peers by late preschool and school age.4 Certain risk factors could indicate that a child may not catch up independently. These include:1

  • Little to no babbling as a baby
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Family history of language delay
  • Not imitating words
  • Using mostly nouns
  • Difficulty playing with peers

More recent studies have shown that one in five late talkers may have difficulty with language processing tasks in the elementary school years.6 It’s always good to consult a speech-language pathologist if you think your child is a late talker.

How Can an SLP Help?

Speech-language pathologists are trained in the identification and treatment of language disorders.4 Whenever a language delay is suspected, the first step is a thorough hearing evaluation to ensure there’s no fluid in the ear or anything that would affect how sounds are perceived. After that, a speech pathologist observes the child during play and interviews the family to determine any pertinent case history, such as birth history, family history, health factors, and developmental milestones, including motor and communication milestones.

Each family is different in terms of family dynamics and language exposure. With the speech pathologist, the family would make a plan that makes sense for the child’s language profile, with either consistent monitoring or ongoing therapy (with direct or indirect intervention). Direct intervention is language stimulation done with the child while the family or caregiver observes. Indirect intervention includes coaching directed toward parents that can be incorporated throughout the day, with feedback from the speech pathologist.4

When To Seek Help

If you’re concerned about your child’s language development, the best thing you can do is consult with a speech-language pathologist. In the United States, children aged 0-3 are entitled to free or reduced-cost evaluations through their local county or Department of Health via the Early Intervention Program.7,8,9

When dealing with late talkers, the earlier you can identify the underlying issues, the sooner you can receive help for your child. This leads to more lasting change for your child and your family.

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Jocelyn M. Wood, MA, CCC-SLP Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist MA, CCC-SLP
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Jocelyn M. Wood, MA, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual speech-language pathologist with over a decade of experience. She specializes in finding simple and effective ways to boost children’s speech and language… Read more

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