How to tell if your child is a late talker

As a parent, teacher or caregiver, it can be worrying if you notice that your child is not meeting certain language milestones. Sometimes, children who cannot express their wants and needs clearly resort to behaviours like biting, screaming, or hitting just to communicate with others

Late talking is a common concern for parents, and it’s important to seek support if you have concerns. Here, members of Kids First’s speech pathology team share how to know if your child is a late talker and what you can do to support their language development.

Is your child a late talker?

Signs that your child could be a late talker

At Kids First, we often say that ‘behaviour is communication’.

It’s easy for us as parents to become so used to our child’s communication patterns that we don’t see the challenges they are experiencing. In these instances, the insights of teachers or other friends and family could indicate that they see your child’s skills in a different light.

Signs that your child may be a late talker include:

  • Having a limited vocabulary and being able to say fewer words than other children of the same age
  • Showing a lack of interest in social interaction with other children or adults
  • Meltdowns and tantrums due to the frustration of being unable to communicate effectively. If you notice these signs in your child, it’s important to seek support from a
  • speech pathologist or other healthcare professional who specializes in child development.
Signs that your child may be a late talker

Children’s Speech and Language Milestones: 12 to 18 months

12 months

At the age of about 12 months, your child is developing a range of communication skills, including being able to:

  • Understand about 10 words that are frequently spoken to them
  • Responds to their own name
  • Recognise gestures (e.g. waving hello or goodbye)
  • Recognise people who are known and familiar to them
  • Say a few simple words (e.g: Mum, Dad, dog, Pa)
  • Babble to themselves while they are playing
  • Copy different sounds and noises that they hear

18 Months

By the age of 18 months, your child’s speech and language learning is in full swing. You may notice that your son or daughter is now starting to:

  • Use objects in their pretend play (e.g. holding a phone and saying ‘hello’)
  • Understand more than 50 words that are said to them
  • Copy the words and sounds that they hear
  • Name a few body parts, such as their eyes and ears
  • Point to a familiar object when you say its name (e.g. cup, phone)
  • Follow a simple, one-part instruction such as ‘throw the ball’
  • Point to some of the pictures in familiar books
How to help a child who is a late talker

Children’s Speech and Language Milestones: 2 to 3 years

2 years

At the age of two, your child is probably starting to mix with other children. These kids may be their siblings or cousins, but they may also be peers at playgroup and daycare. By the age of two, most children are learning to:

  • Say more than 50 words
  • Put two words together in a phrase (e.g. Daddy go, ball gone, bye-bye teddy)
  • Point to different parts of their body, such as their nose or eyes
  • Follow simple two-part instructions such as give me your shoe, show me the book
  • Understand simple concepts such as in, under and on (e.g. the car is under the bed)
  • Use the tone of their voice to ask a question (e.g. Nana go?)
  • Claim possession of things using the words ‘my’ and ‘mine’
  • Respond to simple What and Where questions (e.g. Where is the bird?, What sound does a cow make?)

3 years

Most three-year-olds are social little people for whom learning and play is a huge priority. By the age of three, your son or daughter will be learning to:

  • Say 3-4 words in a sentence
  • Understand simple What? Where? and Who? questions
  • Follow instructions that have two or more parts
  • Talk about things using past tense (e.g.’ she goed home’)
  • Use a variety of words to label the names of places, things, and people
  • Understand concepts like same/different, hot/cold
  • Recognise basic colours
  • Ask questions using who, what and where
  • Have simple conversations (during which they may or may not take turns to stick to the topic!)
Speech Therapists advice: How to help a late talker

What you can do to help your late talker

If your child is falling behind their peers, it’s likely that the difference between their speech and behaviour will begin to show from around the age of two and a half.

One of the most important things you can do is seek the advice of independent professionals who can provide you with information and perspective for your child.

  • Your child’s early educators have the advantage of seeing your child in the context of their peers. They will be able to share information about how your child uses their communication skills in play and provide examples of areas in which your child may be struggling.

  • Your family doctor can also be a great source of support. He or she may recommend that your child’s hearing is checked by an audiologist to ensure that frequent colds and sniffles haven’t impacted your son or daughter’s ability to hear and copy sounds. Your GP may also refer your child to a speech pathologist to explore the causes of your child’s late talking.

  • A paediatric speech pathologist is a university-trained clinician who works specifically with children and their families to solve problems caused by speech and language issues. A speech pathologist can objectively assess your child’s communication skills and provide you with professional advice about whether you have cause to be concerned or not.
Learn more about speech therapy at Kids First here

Get speech therapy help for your late talker

At Kids First Children’s Services, we offer comprehensive speech and language assessments and
therapy services to support your child’s language development. Our team of experienced and
compassionate speech pathologists work closely with you and your child to create an individualized
therapy plan that meets your child’s unique needs.

Remember, early intervention is key in promoting healthy communication and minimizing the impact of language delays on your child’s academic and social development.

If you have concerns about your child’s language development, don’t hesitate to contact us at Kids First Children’s Services for support on 9938 5419.

We’re here to support you and your child - no matter what.

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