How To Help A Late Talker

Watching your child’s language skills grow is one of the many joys of parenting. It’s so exciting to see the new phrases and words they learn. Being able to verbally communicate opens a new chapter for you and your child.

Maybe you have noticed that your child isn’t speaking as much as their peers, or you think they should be communicating better by now. When it doesn’t seem like your child’s language skills are progressing as they should be, it’s normal to worry. Some children do have language or speech delays in their younger years that they eventually outgrow. Others will need the help of a speech-language pathologist to build their communication skills.

Let’s talk about potential causes for late talkers, when to be concerned vs the “wait and see” approach, and how you can help.

Three Ways to Identify a Late Talker

So what determines if your child is a late talker? There are a few signs that you can be on the lookout for if you suspect your child has a speech or language delay.


Noticeable Difference In Receptive and Expressive Language

Before a child can talk they’re able to understand words they’re hearing. For example, a one-year-old may not be able to say “juice” but they recognize it in a sippy cup or understand they want to drink it when you ask. This is known as receptive language. 

Expressive language is just what it sounds like – gestures and words that your child can use and say to express themselves in order to communicate with others. Lack of expressive language is one of the first signs that a child might be a late talker. 

A child may have a mix of receptive and expressive language delays contributing to the lack of language skills, but it is more common for a late talker to have trouble with expressive language rather than receptive. 

Limited Expressive Vocabulary

Although the developmental milestones above are to be used as general guidelines and not hard rules for language development, they do come into play when identifying a late talker. 


Children that are two years of age, have a vocabulary of fewer than 50 words and haven’t used two-word phrases should be seen by a speech therapist to assess for a language delay. They might also have difficulties with proper pronunciation and putting words together in a phrase or sentence. 

When counting vocabulary words, remember these tips:

==> Include gestures (for example, waving goodbye or any baby sign language you may have taught them).

==> If your child is lucky enough to be bilingual, add together the words in both languages (if they say “cat” and “gato” – that’s 2 words!)

Presence of Other Risk Factors

When determining if a child has a language delay, certain risk factors come into play. 

Things like family history of a language or speech delay, premature birth or low birth weight, a complicated birth, being male, frequent ear infections, apraxia of speech, or autism can contribute to the likelihood that a child will be a late talker. We recommend that you find a speech-language pathologist near you to have your child evaluated if they are demonstrating delayed speech and have any of these risk factors.

Diagnosing a Speech or Language Delay

A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) has the training and expertise to diagnose speech and language delays. It’s also important to express your concerns to your primary care provider. She will need to conduct a thorough medical examination to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could cause the delay. Your primary care physician is a great resource for referring and recommending further speech evaluation.

Your SLP will look at your child’s medical history and discuss concerns you have about their speech and language development. They will give your child a comprehensive evaluation to measure where their receptive and expressive language skills are at, as well as any other tests like a hearing assessment if necessary.

Evaluations usually include information provided by the parent(s) and/or caregivers, interactions with and observations of the child, and other formal tools or methods.

Considering the “wait and see” approach for your late talker?

Many late talkers catch up on their own, but in the meantime, they will experience a lot of frustration and it could impact their social skills. After all, growing children have tons of amazing ideas and opinions to share as they develop their independence. When they’re unable to express their ideas with language, they can get very frustrated and discouraged. Often, this leads to further delays among late talkers, and more meltdowns.

Without treatment, 30-40% of kids who won’t catch up may have challenges with reading, vocabulary, and frustration from being unable to express themselves. What may take a few months of treatment in early intervention can take years of intervention if you wait until school-age.

Before you delay that speech evaluation, look at the whole picture. You know your child better than anyone.

Consider the following:

==> Does he seem to understand what you are saying? Can he follow directions? For example, can he get his red shoes if you ask him to?

==> Does she use gestures?

==> Does he get really frustrated when he can’t tell you what he wants? So many meltdowns and frustrations in toddlers are from frustration and language delays! Treating the language delay can help improve toddler tantrums and other challenging behaviors.

==> Is she social? Are her play skills similar to her peers?

==> Does he have any other developmental delays?

==> Does she spend time in a language-rich environment? (Need tips? Keep reading!)

Children’s vocabulary and language will grow in leaps and bounds during the first five years. Treating language delays with early intervention can help your child catch up quickly to their peers. On the other hand, delaying treatment often means slower progress, reading delays, and lower vocabulary

If you have any concerns, go get a speech-language evaluation. Take advantage of the objective, outside expertise of a certified Speech-Language Pathologist to find out if your child would benefit from treatment or if there are home activities you can do to help your child catch up.

Treatment For Late Talkers

The treatment for a child diagnosed with a late language emergence (LLE) is usually speech therapy with a speech-language pathologist, assuming no other developmental delays or disabilities are found. For children with developmental delays or disabilities, the SLP will coordinate closely with the appropriate professionals to ensure the child receives the best care possible.

Most SLPs will create a treatment plan that involves the whole family. Your SLP will teach you activities to do at home and will offer a plan for continual monitoring and goals. Toddlers and preschoolers find the most success when speech-language therapy is reinforced regularly at home.

Children with more severe delays or disabilities will need to take a more direct approach with treatment. In these cases, the SLP will spend more time in one-on-one therapy while also including the family to continue practicing at home. These plans may also require the coordination of specialists like an audiologist, neurodevelopmental pediatrician, occupational therapist, or early childhood general or special education teachers.


How To Help A Late Talker

Your role as a parent or caregiver cannot be understated in the importance of treatment for late talkers. Your involvement can drastically change the outcomes for your child’s speech and language development. Here are five concrete ways you can support your late talker’s speech development: 

Find A Speech-Language Pathologist Today

The sooner a speech or language delay is diagnosed, the better. The outlook for late talkers improves when treatment is started right away instead of waiting. Speech and language delays can cause social, behavioral, and learning issues in later childhood when not addressed with early speech intervention.

Our comprehensive and easy-to-use database can help you find a qualified speech-language pathologist near you today.

Use Speech Therapy Strategies At Home

You are your child’s first teacher and biggest advocate. There are many exercises and activities you can incorporate into your everyday life that will help your child. 

Use descriptive and repetitive language when interacting with your child. Say things like “Mommy sees a big blue bird” or “Baby drinks milk.” The key is to meet your child where they are so they don’t get overwhelmed. If they are only using two-word phrases, then that is how you should talk to them. Gradually increase the number of words used as they begin to expand their vocabulary. Repeat these phrases to give them more opportunities to learn. 


Use Sign Language

Sign language is a powerful tool to help your child’s language skills. Using sign language can also increase their confidence in their ability to communicate until they are able to do so verbally.

Pair signing with spoken words so your child can learn what they are. Eventually, they will forgo using the sign and start speaking the word or phrase aloud.


Read To Your Child

Reading to your child is a powerful tool in language development. The more words your child hears, the bigger their vocabulary can become. Children need to have words and phrases repeated to help them understand their meaning. Children’s books are the best and most engaging way to do this!

Learning happens best in a relaxed, stress-free environment with the parent. Cozying up with a good book and a caregiver allows the child to be open to learning without even realizing it. Having positive, responsive one-on-one time with a parent is one of the best ways to improve language skills.

Talk With Your Child (even if it’s a 1-sided conversation)

In addition to reading, just talking together is so important. That conversational, back and forth turn-taking interaction is so important to stimulate your child’s language skills. Easily include these activities throughout your day, like narrating your actions when cooking or dressing, or describing what you see, hear, feel, and smell while walking down the sidewalk.

Next Steps

If you are worried that your child is a late talker, don’t just assume they’ll grow out of it. Take action now. Your child will benefit from early intervention so they can get caught up to their peers and avoid further developmental delays.

You don’t have to wait for a face-to-face consultation anymore! It’s easier than ever to schedule an online consultation with speech-language pathologists near you. Check out our database to find the right fit for your family today!


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