This is one of the most common questions I hear as a pediatric speech-language therapist! Answering it first requires a definition: A “late-talker” refers to a child who isn’t yet using any words at 15 months or who hasn’t reached the magic 50-word mark by the time she’s two years old. If your child fits this description, you are most definitely not alone—research shows that 10-20% of all children fall into the category of late-talker. Luckily, there are some fairly straight-forward guidelines that can help you decide what you should do about your late-talking toddler. What’s more, there are strategies you can start using right now to enhance your child’s language.
As a parent of a late-talker, you’re probably wondering whether or not you should have a speech therapist work with your child. As you ponder this decision, you’ll want to consider the other things your child is doing. Ask yourself the following:
- Does she use gestures to try to communicate with you?
- Does she understand language well?
- Does she use toys together in pretend play?
- Does she point out things that interest her?
- Does she take an interest in other children?
- Does she use a variety of sounds such as b,p,t,d, m, n, w, and h?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, it’s probably best to have her evaluated through your local early intervention program, if for no other reason than to calm your worries.
If you answered yes to all those questions, however, things get a little bit fuzzier. Research tells us that many late-talking children who have no other delays will eventually catch up on their own. We also know, though, that some late-talkers will eventually struggle with language tasks in school such as reading and writing. The benefits of introducing speech therapy when your child is a toddler is that you will be personally guided through the strategies that can help your toddler communicate more effectively, and you may be able to ward off later language difficulties. If you do decide that speech therapy is the best option for you and your child, you’ll want to talk to your pediatrician, who can help you find the early intervention program in your area.
In the meantime, though, you can start using some strategies with your toddler all on your own. You can:
- Read repetitive books and sing familiar songs–doing so helps your toddler predict what language comes next and learn to say the words inside those routines,
- Encourage her to imitate you by pairing simple words with simple actions, so that she both sees and hears what she is supposed to do,
- Help her learn to use pictures to ask for what she wants to reduce her frustration and to teach her that she can communicate with you even if she doesn’t yet have words,
- Say simple words when looking at books with her, so that she learns to associate the pictures she sees with the words she hears, and
- Use baby sign language, which has been shown to promote verbal speech by acting as a bridge between gestures and words.
The key to language learning with toddlers is to keep it fun and simple. And, of course, to enjoy your toddler each step along the way.
About the author
Becca is a pediatric speech-language therapist who believes that all parents should have the power to help their children learn to communicate. She blogs at Child Talk ,where she doles out tips for improving speech and language, answers parent questions about speech and language development, and shares creative language-based activities. She can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter .