New Research: "Late talkers twice as likely to have severe, frequent temper tantrums"

Updated: May 17

Perhaps as a parent you've assumed that a toddler speech delay and temper tantrums go hand in hand, but now there is the large scale data to show that.


A new, 2,000-participant study from Northwestern University found that toddlers with fewer spoken words have more frequent and severe temper tantrums than their peers with typical language skills. Which to the speech therapists at Speech Therapy that Works (STTW), is not surprising.


"We've found that many of our late talking toddler clients get very frustrated when they can't express their wants, needs and emotions. The same situation would make any adult frustrated and angry, so why wouldn't a child react the same way?" said Carly, a speech therapist at STTW who has worked with toddlers for over 10 years.

In the study, a toddler is considered to be a "late talker" if they have fewer than 50 words or aren't putting words together by age 2.

The increase in frustration and number of tantrums is only made worse by the fact that many people still believe that a "wait and see" approach is the best way to handle their late talkers. They are advised by loved ones that their toddler might simply outgrow their delay. But the research on that suggests otherwise.


Here are the facts:


  • 20-30% of late talkers don't outgrow their delay

  • Late Talkers who seem to catch up continue to have some weaknesses in language, literacy, social skills and/or executive function skills (like planning or paying attention)


Do parents want to risk waiting? What should parents do?


To increase the chances for a positive outcome for a toddler with language delay or a late talking child, early language intervention is crucial. Intervention with a speech therapist that focuses on strategies that help a child communicate at an age appropriate level can drastically decrease frustration at home, at school with teachers or with peers.


Parents also report that speech therapy's biggest impact can be with improving social communication between a toddler and a peer. Maria G. a parent of a late talking toddler who gets speech therapy at STTW, says:


"My son used to hit his sister whenever he wanted a toy. Now he can say "gimme please" as he reaches his hand out. I've seen such great improvement in his language but I'm happy to say that he also doesn't get angry so often."

The recommendation for speech therapy is not something that parents should hesitate about. It does no harm. Meaning, even if your child would have outgrown their delay, the speech therapist just played with your child and their toys. The intervention doesn't hurt or do damage. And since there is a risk for problems in school later on with literacy, language and other functioning, the risk is greater for parents to wait and do nothing.


Another important recommendation is for parents to get trained in speech therapy strategies that they can use at home with their toddler. When a parent is empowered to be their child's speech therapist, a child learns faster and can graduate from speech therapy sooner. There really is no downside.


STTW has a program available specifically to train parents to learn many of the strategies that speech therapists use with late talking toddlers. "It's one of our most popular programs," says Carly, "because parents and toddlers see results right away."


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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