Children who are late to talk

Is my child a late talker? 

First words are a very exciting milestone in your child’s development. However, there can often be uncertainty around an appropriate time frame for your child to be gaining these first words – especially if you haven’t been able to watch other young children learn their first words. 


A late talker is typically described as a 2-year old who has not developed 50 words in their vocabulary, and is not yet combining two words into phrases. By the age 2, children should have acquired between 50 and 200 spoken words, allowing them to start putting these words together to speak in small phrases. 


Should I wait until my child is 2 before seeking support? 


It is never too early to seek support for your child’s communication – the earlier you start therapy, the less skills there are to catch up on. 


Children typically begin to say their first words around 12-months of age, and should be using some spoken words to communicate by 18-months of age. If you are concerned that your child is not yet using spoken words by 1 ½ years or is approaching their 2nd birthday with less than 50 words, it is recommended that you seek advice from a Speech Pathologist – they can provide information around communication milestones and assessment options. 


Why might my child be late to talk? 


There are a few different reasons that can present as late to talk:


  1. Standard Late Talker – These children require more targeted language exposure and prompting in order to use spoken communication. Once the appropriate language modifications and strategies are implemented, these late talkers typically ‘catch up’ to their expected communication milestones within 2-3 months.  
  2. Language Disorder – Children with a language disorder have an underlying weakness that impacts on the development of their receptive (i.e. understanding) and/or expressive (i.e. output) language skills. Throughout therapy, they typically will have a slower response to intervention and may require targeted work on all aspects of language, such as sentence construction (i.e. how to order words), grammar, vocabulary (i.e. word learning), and use (i.e. using language to interact with others).  
  3. Speech Difficulties – Children with speech difficulties have a weakness producing the correct speech-sounds/a range of sounds, which impacts on their ability to produce spoken words and phrases. Through intervention, they may appear to be attempting words and phrases, but are difficult to understand – or alternatively they appear unable to attempt words (particularly if they are complex).  
  4. Developmental Disorder – Children with an underlying developmental disorder (such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Global Developmental Delay, or Intellectual Impairment) will make slow or no progress with general language modifications and strategies.They usually need different interventions and strategies to Late Talkers in order to support their communications skills. They also frequently present with other difficulties in conjunction with delayed communication. This can include: difficulties attending to others, difficulties playing with other children/adults, frequent emotional outbursts/tantrums, difficulties learning (even with repetition), poor focus, difficulties learning and executing small movements (such as grabbing, throwing/catching, walking, jumping, colouring). 


A speech pathology assessment and monitoring of your child’s progress in therapy will help to develop a theory around possible diagnoses. 


What can I do to help my toddler’s language develop? 


  1. Read – Reading books to your child is a great way to teach new vocabulary as they have repetitive vocabulary and contain pictures you can refer to. You can mix up story reading by moving between talking about the pictures and reading the text.  
  2. Play – Playing with your child is another great way to teach vocabulary and sentence structures in a fun and interactive way. You can target vocabulary by selecting different toys and making them do different actions. Within play, your child also has the opportunity to practise using language in a social way, by responding to and expressing ideas.  
  3. Slow Down – You don’t have to turn into a slow-motion robot, but slowing down your sentences and pausing between sentences can make a difference to your child’s language development. It allows extra time for your child to hear the individual words you are using and process how you put them together in a sentence. Leaving a pause also gives your child the opportunity to have a go responding.  
  4. Praise – Praise your child with excitement each time they attempt a word, even if the word wasn’t clear. This will positively reinforce their efforts and increase the likelihood of them attempting more words. Try to avoid correcting their pronunciation too much, aim to provide 1 or 2 prompts for words the child is easily able to use. 


If you would like to further discuss your child’s communication profile, or receive further information about ways to support language development at home, please get in touch with one of our paediatric Speech Pathologists via phone (07) 3265 4495 or email [email protected]

Thida Hantun

Speech Pathologist