What is a Late Talker? – Speech Matters – November 2010
By Cheryl D. Lindsay MS., S-LP
‘Late talker’ is “a term used to describe children 18 to 20 months old, who have fewer than 10 words or those 21 to 30 months old, who have fewer than 50 words and no two-word combinations. Typically, these children have no other problems.” (Source: Contemporary Pediatrics. “The ‘late talker’ – when silence isn’t golden”, by Marilyn C. Agin, MD, 2004)
Speech and language developmental milestones have been presented here in previous columns. As speech is developing, it is important to recognize that a child will follow a certain order through the stages, but may be delayed at reaching the milestones. The stages begin with reflexive sounds; cooing, (first using vowels); babbling, (reduplicated e.g., “mama” and then variegated e.g., “baba beee-ummm gubba dum-goo-ee?”); vocal play; jargon; first words and then putting two-words together. When the order of development is not typical, or where there is regression in some areas, there may be reason for concern. A speech-language pathologist can help by assessing your child’s speech and language development.
Although most late talkers do eventually “catch up” and speak normally, it is wise to be aware of warning signs that may indicate a disorder rather than a delay.
Sometimes talking late may be a symptom of another condition such as a hearing loss, cognitive impairment, speech disorder, (dysarthria, apraxia, phonological disorder), language disorder, autism spectrum disorder, or another syndrome. These conditions would be diagnosed by the appropriate medical professional. If late talking is not just delayed but a symptom of another condition, it will not resolve itself, therefore, early diagnosis and early intervention are necessary.
Receptive language, which is comprehension or understanding, develops before expressive language. An example of this would be asking your child to put on their winter coat and they do so because they understand the request, but are unable to use vocalizations to express themselves. If a child’s receptive language is delayed, this would be cause for concern.
Children can still communicate without words or nonverbally, by using eye-contact, gestures, body language, facial expression, shaking or nodding their head for yes or no, or hand leading. Ultimately though, encouraging vocalizations with these initial nonverbal skills should lead to using true words and more verbal communication.
Late talking may result in the experience of frustration for the child and the caregiver. It is important to stay positive and encourage good self-esteem. Think of your child as ‘learning to talk’ rather than ‘being expected to talk’ and celebrate every small step!
(Next Month: Phonological Processes – A child’s normal patterns for simplifying adult speech)