Is Your Toddler a Late Talker or is it Something Else?

Updated: May 17

Is your child a late talker or is there a more serious problem that may have gone overlooked?

We would like to not worry when our child 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 for.


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.


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.

At Better Speech we know you deserve speech therapy that works.

We have experts in your needs and 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.

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