How to Know if Your Toddler is a Late Talker (and What to do About it!)

“He’ll talk when he’s ready!” Sound familiar? People throw out “reassurances” left, right, and center when faced with a child who isn’t talking much. No doubt you've been told by well-meaning family members and maybe even doctors that your child will probably talk by the time they are three. But what if they don’t?

I'm a mother with two young children of my own. I’m also a speech therapist who’s been working with toddlers and preschoolers for over 10 years and undoubtedly one of the most frequent questions I'm asked is whether a child is talking as much as they should be for their age. 

Parents know what's best for their child

As a general rule, trust your parental instinct. As a parent, no one knows your child better than you! You are their number one advocate. 

Some parents of young children give a lot of credit to advice from others who have gone before them. In many cases, this kind of input is valuable. Like when you are worried about potty training and Aunt Millie tells you, “He won’t go off to kindergarten wearing diapers.” - she is probably right! However, when it comes to what is developmentally appropriate for your child's talking, let's see what research shows.

What research shows

The first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills (1). 

Without early intervention, 20-30% of toddlers and preschoolers with language delays won't catch up to their peers (2). Delaying intervention can postpone important treatment that can have a big impact on your child’s future. A “wait and see” approach is risky.

Okay, so now you may be wondering - what does a language delay look like?

Most 2-3 year-olds should:

- Have a word for almost everything
- Use 2-3 words to talk about and ask for things
- Use k, g, f, t, d, and n sounds
- Be understood by familiar listeners
- Ask “why?”
- Follow 2-step directions
- Understand differences in meaning

By now, you may have some idea about whether or not your child is a late talker. If you're still unsure if your child is delayed, don’t stop there! Strong foundational speech and language skills are critical for academic success and building social relationships throughout a person’s life. Investing in speech and language therapy for a child with delays is quite literally an investment in his future! So, if you are unsure, consult a licensed speech therapist (aka speech-language pathologist or SLP).

What you can do

Early intervention is about more than your child spending 30 minutes a week with a speech therapist. It requires parent involvement to carry-over new skills learned into your child’s everyday life. You wouldn’t stick to a diet for only a short period every week and completely ignore it for the rest of the time - the same goes for speech therapy! 

Parents who seek early intervention for their child can expect to learn valuable tips and methods to use in day to day family life: 

  • Increasing interaction during daily routines

  • Boosting communication skills in unexpected places

  • Learning strategies that promote language development during play

Combine an SLP’s expertise with your own daily efforts and your child could be in and out of therapy before she even realizes there is something to “correct.” The result? An overall shorter duration of treatment. 

For your peace of mind, schedule a FREE PHONE CONSULTATION with us at Montgomery Speech Therapy to clear up any doubts and determine if an evaluation is needed. 

At Montgomery Speech Therapy (MST), we offer play-based and family-centered speech therapy for toddlers and preschoolers. With individual therapy sessions from our home studio or your child’s home or school setting, our aim is to provide fun, motivating activities that drive your child toward becoming a confident and effective communicator.

1) “Speech and Language Developmental Milestones.” Voice, Speech, and Language. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 06 Mar 2017. Web. 06 Mar 2018.
2) Ellis EM, Thal DJ. (2008) Early language delay and risk for language impairment. Perspect Lang Learn Ed., 15(3): 93-100.