Late Talkers: When to Be Concerned About Your Toddler’s Speech and Language Development

Late Talkers: When to Be Concerned About Your Toddler's Speech and Language Development - Advice from Speech pathologists in Sydney's northern beaches

We’ve all been there … you’re in a play group or at story-time at your local library…

All the other toddlers in the room are babbling away a mile a minute to anyone who will listen, and your child is quietly enjoying building a stack of colourful blocks or flipping through the pages of a picture book.

Moments like this sit in the back of your mind and tend to eat away at you until you are in a state of panic, convinced that there is something wrong with your child’s development.

Many parents are faced with the challenge of late talkers, and they can’t help but ask “when should I be worried about my toddler’s speech and language development?”

There is no definitive answer to that question, as children develop at different speeds, but below, Kids First’s speech patholgists share some tips that could help.

How your home contributes to your toddler’s talking

Many variables in a child’s home have an impact on their speech development.

Children with older siblings might pick up new words faster and communicate sooner than first babies, whose parents might be so quick to satisfy every need that they don’t have any need to speak.

While toddlers’ speech development does vary greatly from case to case, there are some warning signs that might indicate a speech problem.

Before we talk about what to watch out for, though, here are some interesting facts to keep in mind:

Girls tend to be more talkative

While the typical 16-month old girl is using about 50 different words, the typical boy of the same age is using about 30.

The lag doesn’t last very long at all, and boys usually catch up with the ladies over the next couple of months.

Premmies need a little extra time

By the age of two, most children who were born prematurely will have caught up to their peers in a variety of milestones.

The trick is to compare development with your premmie’s original due date, not the date when they were actually born. You’ll find that the extra two months or so will end up putting their development right on track.

Delays are common with multiples.

Speech pathologists estimate that nearly 50% of twins, triplet and quads have some sort of speech delay.

This could be due to issues such as low birth weight and prematurity.

Poor hearing can affect speech

Many children suffer from chronic ear infections, and if they do not exhibit any symptoms or complain, parents won’t even know.

A build-up of fluid in the ears might be discovered during a trip to the paediatrician for an entirely different issue.

This build up can make it very difficult for a child to hear and can have a significant impact on their developing speech.

Super focused toddlers don’t like to multitask.

Some kids just have the tendency to become extremely focused on one skill at a time–that will actually be quite handy later in life! Think of how much easier homework will be…

When a toddler is focused on developing a skill such as walking or climbing, they often concentrate all of their attention on it, temporarily abandoning other skills (such as speech).

Warning signs to watch out for

Now that you understand a little bit more about the variables that can affect your toddler’s speech development, we can touch on a few warning signs that might warrant more investigation by your paediatrician:

Your toddler is not using any responsive gestures

Even a late speaker needs to be able to communicate with you. It’s a good sign if your toddler is using gestures to indicate understanding–for example if he responds to commands like “Please get your shoes”, he clearly understands what you are asking.

If he uses gestures like pointing to express his needs or nodding when you ask if he is hungry, it shows that he does indeed hear you and has an appropriate response to the situation.

If your toddler is not using any other responsive communication, there may be a bigger issue. Whether it seems like he simply can’t understand what you are asking him, or if he has trouble actually hearing you, it’s a good idea to investigate further.

There is no speech at all or your toddler’s progress is reversing

By the age of one, your toddler should be making at least some babbling noises. If your toddler is 18 months old and hasn’t tried forming even one single word, this could be an indicator of a speech problem.

Other warning signs include a steady progression in speech development followed by a noticeable reversal in that progression (his vocabulary actually gets smaller and he talks much less), a vocabulary of 50 words or less at the age of 30 months, and the use of very simple two-word (or less) phrases by the age of 36 months.

These warning signs could indicate a speech, language, or hearing disorder and should be discussed in detail with your paediatrician. Together, you can determine the cause of the problem and find appropriate speech therapy options that will help your toddler flourish.

© 2017 Kids First Children’s Services


Worried about your toddler’s late talking?

Kids First’s speech pathologist are experienced professionals who have helped hundreds of children to overcome the problems caused by late talking.

We offer both face to face and tele-health speech therapy for children of all ages, so call us on (02) 9938 5419 to chat about your child’s needs, or click on the image below to learn more about speech therapy at Kids First.

Learn more about speech therapy at Kids First here

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