What makes a child a late talker?

A late talker is a child, usually about 15-24 months old, who is slower, compared to other children of the same age, in acquiring language skills. Late talkers often do not have any other disabilities or developmental delays. In most cases, a late talker can understand language properly and at a normal pace. It is just the production or use of language that does not start at a developmentally appropriate age. Most late talkers who exclusively have a tough time producing language have great social skills, thinking skills, motor skills, and play skills.

How do I know if my child is a late talker?

There are a few signs that parents can look out for to indicate whether a child is a late talker or not. These signs depend on the child’s age and roughly how many words, on average, he or she knows and can produce.

At 12 months, a child should know and be able to say about 2-6 words. These words usually include naming items that he or she comes into contact with regularly. Animal sounds are also accepted as words for a child at this age.

At 2 years old, a child should know as well as be able to say no less than 50 words and have an average of about 200-300 words. Using these words, he or she should start combining two words together. For example, a child at this age should be able to put words together such as, “hi mama”, “bye dad”, “more milk”, etc.

At 3 years old, a child should know as well as be able to produce about 1000 words. Additionally, he or she should be able to create sentences with three or more words. For example, a child at this age should be able to say something like, “I want more.” or “I see a dog!”.

What is the normal rate of development for language in toddlers?

There is no solid timetable of exactly how many words each and every child should be able to produce at a given age. It varies slightly between different children.

Below is a rough estimate of how many words a child should be able to produce at a given age. If there is a slight difference in how many words he or she can produce, compared to what is in this list it does not mean that he or she is a late talker. However, if the difference is significant, then it would be in the parent’s best interest to contact a speech-language pathologist so that their child’s language skills can be evaluated by a specialist.

Age of Child ~ Average Number of Words

-12 months ~ 2-6 words

-15 months ~ 10 words

-18 months ~ 50 words

-24 months (2 years) ~ 200-300 words

-30 months ~ 450 words

-36 months (3 years) ~ 1,000 words

-42 months ~ 1,200 words

-48 months (4 years) ~ 1,600 words

Although all children do produce language at their own pace, there are still certain important age markers that a child should most definitely be able to produce a certain number of words at.

Is there a direct cause that leads to a child becoming a late talker?

There are no direct links between specific conditions, characteristics, or practices that may lead to a child becoming a late talker. However, some possible characteristics that researchers have found to be more likely associated with late talkers include, but are not limited to a child that:

-has a family history of early language delay

-is a male

-was born with a low birthweight

-was born prematurely which means that the baby was not carried to full term (9 months)

What challenges could a late talker be met with when he or she gets older?

Children who exclusively have trouble starting and are slow in their progression of producing language commonly end up learning vocabulary at a slower rate which could eventually lead to a smaller vocabulary. Additionally, these children may also struggle to create sentences and articulate or pronounce their words correctly.

There are some cases where a child could have a delay in both producing words and understanding what someone may be telling them orally or through written language, more commonly known as language comprehension, as well. This could lead to a delay in oral, also known as verbal, word production as well as both verbal and written comprehension as an adult.

Children who have a delay in both their word production and comprehension are at a greater risk for other types of language and literacy difficulties than those who only have a delay in the production of language when they get older.

Is it possible for my child to eventually catch up in their language development?

Absolutely! Every case is different when it comes to how a parent or clinician can go about helping the child overcome the obstacle. Researchers have determined that about 70-80% of late talkers do manage to catch up to other children of the same age, in terms of language skills, by the time he or she starts school. Since they do eventually start developing their language skills at what is determined to be a normal pace, these children are often considered to be “late bloomers”. This is because although it may not have been at the normal pace, he or she, either with the help of speech therapy or completely on their own, came to reach the same level of language skills as their peers.

After catching up to the rest of their peers, late talkers are tested on their overall language skills and usually produce average scores, instead of significantly low scores that may indicate a language delay or disorder. However, research has shown that despite having average scores in addition to producing and comprehending language at a normal level, the late talker should still be monitored and supported as necessary because he or she may still have difficulties with certain aspects of language that will still need attention. This means that even though a late talker could improve their language skills to the point where they are producing and comprehending words at a normal and sufficient pace, he or she may still be at risk for other language challenges that should not go unnoticed.

Can a child grow out of being a late talker on their own?

It is most definitely possible for a child to grow out of their language delay all on their own; however, it is not recommended to ‘wait and see’ if the child will develop language on their own. If a child is 15 months old and is not communicating verbally they should be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. Considering every child’s progression of development, paired with all the individual factors that come with it, is different, growing out of the language delay may not be possible for every late talker. The amount of therapy that each child may need also depends on the severity of the child’s delay in speech and how much the therapy approaches are helping to improve it. Delaying therapy could prolong the time your child is not using verbal language, further delaying language acquisition.

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