We don’t want to worry when our child appears to be a late talker toddler, or is not keeping up with their developmental milestones. And we especially don’t like to compare our child to other kids and how they are progressing.
But it’s important to know what the indicators are for when a child’s language difficulties are not only an expressive language delay. Thankfully, there are evidence based characteristics that you can start to pay attention to with your late talker toddler.
First, it’s important to know that an expressive language delay is defined as when your toddler is speaking later than other toddlers their age. It has nothing to do with whether you can understand what they are saying – that’s speech, not language.
But if your child is not using language like their peers, here are some of the other aspects to watch out for that might indicate that there may be something bigger going on with their language development.
1. Delays in Cognition – if cognitive skills are delayed, then receptive language skills are delayed, and so are expressive skills. Cognitive delays and disorders can be due to genetic diagnoses such as Fragile X or Down syndrome, complications during pregnancy or birth including prematurity, infections or trauma. We might suspect that there is a cognitive delay if the child is delayed in several different milestones. For example, the child was a late walker and is now a late talker and may be missing some social skills.
2. Joint Attention Difficulty – Also called shared attention,” and happens when two people focus on the same object/event. An example is if the child notices a dog running and then uses words/gestures/non-verbal methods to draw someone else’s attention to it. They might say, “look!” or point or use eye gaze.
3. Limited/No Use of Gestures – Gestures (e.g., pointing, waving, blow a kiss) tell us that language skills are developing normal and tend to show up before words. Research has shown that the ability to use gestures at 18 months can predict language skills at 36 months. Here are 16 more gestures by 16 months.
4. Limited Pretend Play Skills – When engaged in pretend play, a toddler starts using their imagination. Play is a cognitive skill because by looking at what a child is doing, we can learn about what they are thinking. Examples of pretend play are using an object to represent another object (use a tissue for a for a doll’s blanket), referring to an invisible object like holding an invisible steering wheel when pretending to drive a car.
These are only some of the things speech therapists look for when they hear that a toddler is a late talker. We are looking for these additional “red flags” to make sure that the expressive language delay is only that. At Better Speech you can get a free consultation with a speech therapist.
And why is identifying these deficits so important? Because if we don’t recognize the whole problem we cannot treat it in the best way, and the child might not make progress, even if they are getting speech therapy.
When Do Kids Start Talking? And a Children’s Language Development Milestones Chart
We know that every child develops at their own pace and when a child learns to speak also happens at their own pace. Yet it is important for speech language pathologists to refer to general milestones which can be a guide to normal speech and language development. When referring to these milestones, speech language pathologists can determine if there may be a delay and if further testing is required.
Here are some general guidelines:
By the end of 3 months:
- Smile at you
- Make cooing sounds
- When spoken to, they might get quiet or smile
- Seem as though they recognize a parent’s voice
- Make different crying sounds for different needs
By the end of 6 months:
- Make gurgling sounds
- Babble or make other sounds
- Use their voice to show pleasure/displeasure
- Look in the direction of sounds
- Respond to changes in tone of voice from an adult
- Pay attention to sounds made by objects/toys/music
By the end of 12 months:
- Attempt to imitate speech sounds
- Say simple words like “dada,” “mama”
- Respond to simple directions, such as “Come here”
- Recognize common items, like “doggie”
- Look in the direction of sounds
By the end of 18 months:
- Know the names of known people, objects and body parts
- Follow simple directions
- Say 10 words
By the end of 24 months:
- Use simple 2 word phrases like “more juice”
- As one or two word questions like “Go bye-bye?”
- Follow simple questions and understand simple questions
- Say about 50 or more words
- Speech is understood by parents/primary caregivers at least half of the time
At Better Speech we know you deserve speech therapy that works.
We have experts to help your late talker toddler and we will assign the right therapist; not just the therapist that happens to be in your area. If you want to find out more about our services, contact us to schedule a free consultation.