When it comes to late talkers, developmental milestones can be a source of worry and confusion. Add to that the mix of information that comes 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 some of these things, parents know best when it comes to their child, and if you’re worried, you will want a solid plan of action.
What is a “Late Talker”?
A “Late Talker” is a toddler (between 18-30 months) who has a 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 (Hanen Centre).
What Causes Late Talking?
Because late talking is so prevalent, with approximately 14% of children aged 18-30 months classified this way, there is a lot of information about potential causes.
1. Family history.
If one or both parents were late talkers, chances are your child will also be delayed in speaking.
2. Difference between boys and girls.
Although girls typically have more words than boys at 16 months (50 words versus 30 words), this gap usually closes as children near their 2nd birthday. With that being said, boys are 3x more likely to be late talkers than girls.
3. Sibling order.
Older siblings can help provide rich language opportunities for younger siblings. Still, they can also do a lot of the talking for their younger siblings, causing a slight language delay. Twins have a 38% chance of being late talkers.
Will Late Talkers Catch Up?
For 50% of late talkers, they will catch up to their peers by 30 months without outside intervention. Certain risk factors could indicate that a child may not catch up independently. These include:
- 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
As more recent studies have shown that late talkers may have difficulty with language processing tasks in the elementary school years, it is always good to consult with 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. Whenever a language delay is suspected, the first step is always a thorough hearing evaluation to ensure there is no fluid in the ear or anything going on that would affect how sounds are perceived.
After that, a speech pathologist would observe the child during play and interview 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 the family dynamic and language exposure. Together 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 either direct or indirect intervention.
Direct intervention is language stimulation done with the child while the family or caregiver observes, while indirect intervention includes coaching directed towards parents that can be incorporated throughout the day, with feedback from the speech pathologist.
When to seek help.
If parents are concerned about their child’s language development, the best thing they can do is consult with a speech-language pathologist. In the United States, children aged 0-3 years old are entitled to free evaluations through their local county or Department of Health via the Early Intervention Program.
When dealing with late talkers, the earlier the underlying issues are identified, the more lasting change for the child and the family.