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Just Late Talking? from Jeanne Tighe M.A., CCC-SLP, BCS-CL

Just Late Talking?

Language is central to child development. Parents all over the world wait eagerly for the emergence of spoken words around the end of a baby’s first year of life, and delight in hearing their baby use new words and, not long after, sentences. Frequently, however, those first words don’t appear when they’re expected, or a few develop but the pace of growth seems slow.

Parents who draw attention to their child’s slow language growth may be told by well-meaning family members, friends, and even pediatricians, “Don’t worry, she/he is just a late talker.” Those “don’t worry” messages can sometimes feel reassuring in the moment, but they can also be dismissive of deeply felt concerns. So when should a parent of a toddler worry about language development that seems to be falling behind expectations? Decades of research on typical and atypical language development has revealed some reliable indicators of language problems that are more serious than a simple delay.

  • The baby doesn’t babble or produce speech-like sounds by their first birthday.

  • The baby doesn’t seem to consistently understand at least some spoken words and phrases by 12-18 months.

  • The baby isn’t using some clear, intentional words by 18 months.

  • The baby is using less than 50 single words at 2 years.

  • The baby doesn’t frequently engage in shared interest and activity with others

If you notice any of the following situations happening to a child in your life, make sure help is sought. A conversation with the child’s pediatrician is a common and appropriate first step, though parents should be aware that some pediatricians lack expertise in language development. Speech-language pathologists can efficiently and reliably assess communication development in children at any age and provide specific information about the baby or toddler’s growth. Even more importantly, SLPs can equip parents with effective skills and strategies for building their child’s language comprehension and expression through natural interactions and play routines.

Wondering whether your child (or grandchild or niece or nephew or godchild) is developmentally delayed is scary. It can be difficult to take that first step to find out whether a problem exists. At Beyond Communication, our SLP staff has over 100 years of combined professional experience, and we’ve never known a parent to say, “I regret we did speech-language therapy when he/she was little.” On the contrary, we see that getting answers and getting help comes with enormous relief and, later when progress occurs, pride.

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