A “Late Talker” is a toddler (between 18-30 months) who has a 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 of late-talking children has specifically with verbal or expressive language. This group of children can be very puzzling because they have all of the building blocks for spoken word, 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 less than 37 weeks gestation . It has also been determined that approximately 13% of two-year-olds are late talkers .
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 (“infant”,”cookie”), verbs (“consume”,”move”), prepositions (“up”,”down”), adjectives (“sexy”,”exhausted”), and social words (“hello”,”bye”).
24-month-olds should use at least 100 words and combine two words. These word combinations should be generated by the child, and not be combinations that are “memorised 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”.
Do Children who are Late Talkers Catch Up on their Own?
Because this group of children is progressing so well in other areas of development, parents and others may assume that they will catch up on their own. Indeed, many late talkers do “grow out of it”, but many do not. It can be challenging to predict which children will not catch up to their peers. However, a list of risk factors has been identified, which suggests that a child is more likely to have continuing language difficulties. These include:
quiet as an infant; little babbling
a history of ear infections
a limited number of consonant sounds (e.g. 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)
difficulty playing with peers (social skills)
a family history of communication delay, learning or academic problems
a mild comprehension (understanding) delay for his or her age
uses few gestures to communicate
If a toddler has a limited vocabulary for his age and any of the above risk factors, we recommend consulting a speech-language pathologist. Children who demonstrate the final three risk factors above (family history, comprehension problems, or few gestures) are at the highest risk for a continuing language delay . Instead of adopting a”let’s wait and see” strategy, The Hanen Centre urges obtaining help for toddlers that are late to speak as early as you can.
What about the group of late talkers who appear to catch up on their own without intervention?
Though a large proportion of those children seem to catch up with their peers at the time they enter college, studies are revealing that this set of kids don’t function as well as their peers in some specific elements of language use like language sophistication and punctuation . Thus, The Hanen Centre advocates intervention for toddlers posing as Late Talkers, to stop additional language issues in the future.
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