Late Talkers: Why You Shouldn’t “Just Wait and See”

What is a “Late Talker”?  This is a toddler who is late to start using words, but has typical development in other areas. These late talking children understand much of what is said to them, have good play skills and interact well socially.  Despite these typical skills, their expressive vocabulary is limited compared to other children their age.

How do we decide if your late talking child needs some help?  Here’s what we know:

Certain factors make it more likely that a child will experience ongoing issues. If your Late Talker doesn’t use many sounds or gestures, or has difficulty understanding language,  they are at greater risk of having language delays that persist.

Family history can play a role.  Late Talkers who have a family member with a history of language delay are also more likely to have ongoing difficulties.

Not all late talkers will catch up with their peers.  While 70-80% of late talking toddlers outgrow a language delay if it is an expressive delay only (involves only spoken language, with no delays in understanding and/or social use of language), 20-30% of Late Talkers continue to have problems with language development, including difficulties in reading and writing when they get to school.

Early Intervention can make a difference! Research strongly recommends that we help all late talking children who have risk factors as soon as possible. When we help toddlers early on, not only does their language improve, but it also helps them develop other skills that depend on language, like reading, social skills, behaviour, and executive function skills (such as planning, organizing, paying attention, and controlling impulsive behaviour).

Parents play the most important role in helping their child. Parents who receive coaching and education on how to support their child’s language development can significantly help their child improve their communication skills.

If you notice that your toddler isn’t reaching the appropriate milestones for his age, talk to your child’s pediatrician. They can refer you for an assessment from a licensed speech-language pathologist, who will help you decide whether intervention is necessary.

Some communication milestones to take note of:

–12 months- Says at least a few single words with meaning, such as  “mama” and “dada” and can understand and follow simple commands

–18 months – Using at least 10-15 different words

–24 months – Using at least 50 spontaneous words and combining two words in simple phrases, like “eat cookie” and “play car”

Article Resource: The Hanen Centre;

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