Who is a “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. These children tend to have all of the building blocks for spoken language, yet they don’t talk or talk very little.
Researchers have yet to agree upon an explanation for this specific delay. They have determined, though, that Late Talkers are more likely to have a family history of early language delay, to be male, and to have been born at less than 85% of their optimal birth weight or at less than 37 weeks gestation. Approximately 13% of two year olds are late talkers in accordance with current research.
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”.
There is an agreed upon list of risk factors has been identified as markers for Late Talking children who are less likely to ‘catch up’ to their peers by school-age without intervention. These children are 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)
- has 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
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.
If a toddler has a limited vocabulary for his age and any of the above risk factors, instead of adopting a “let’s wait and see” approach, it is recommended that you get assessment with a skilled early-intervention Speech-Language Pathologist and commence 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. Language intervention for all toddlers presenting as Late Talkers might prevent further language difficulties later on.
Assessment for Late Talkers
If you are concerned that your child is not using as many words as they should be, it’s a great idea to have a hearing assessment completed at your closest Audiologist. You can get a referral from your GP in order to claim a medicare rebate for the session.
After this has been explored, seek assessment with a Speech-Language Pathologist with knowledge about early development, and preferably who is certified in HANEN It Takes Two to Talk, which is an evidence-based intervention program for children with communicative delays.
Your Therapist can provide you with further information about your child’s language development, and tailor an intervention program to suit you and your family’s needs. Ongoing monitoring for longer-term language difficulties will be important.
What you can do to help your late talking children?
If your child is a late talker, there are several things that you can do to help them develop their language skills. Here are some tips:
- Talk to your child: Talk to your child often, and use simple, clear language. Label objects and actions and encourage your child to imitate you.
- Read to your child: Reading to your child is a great way to expose them to language. Choose books with simple language and colourful pictures and encourage your child to point to and label objects in the pictures. For some children, books with a repetitive rhythm or with interactive components like touch and feel or button books might help them to engage.
- Play with your child: Play is an important part of language development. Play with your child and use language to describe what you are doing and what they are doing (narrating) to help them learn language that correlates with where their attention is focussed.
- Provide a rich language environment: this might mean showing them things as you say them, using gestures, having visuals available in early childhood settings.
- Sing together: music provides a wonderful repetitive rhythm and melody for language learning and is well researched to support language development. If they don’t want to sing with you, they might drum or shake a bell with you for example.
- Sit face-to-face with your child as you play and interact so they can see and hear you well.
Use lots of gestures in your interactions together; wave, point, put your hands out when you want to pick them up, shake and nod your head, put your hand out for ‘stop’ and toward you for ‘come’.
- Play with sounds: babble, and use lots of silly and exciting exclamatory sounds in your play and interaction together (e.g. ‘whee’ as they slide, ‘uh-oh!’ as the tower falls, ‘brrrmmm’ as the car moves, ‘ssshh’ as you hug baby doll).
Learn more about Late Talkers
Here are some reliable resources to seek: