Do Children Who are Late Talkers Catch Up?

Updated: Feb 6

What is the Definition of a "Late Talker"?


Late Talker - A toddler who is between 18-30 months with a good understanding of language (receptive language), typically developing motor/play/cognitive/social skills, but has a limited spoken vocabulary for this age. These toddlers have a difficulty with spoken or expressive language


What are the Milestones for Toddlers?


18 month olds

  • Use least 20 words, including different types of words like nouns (“doggie”, “car”), verbs (“run”, “sleep”), prepositions (“up”, “down”), adjectives (“cold”, “wet”), and social communication words (“hi”, “bye”).


24 month olds

  • Use at least 100 words

  • Combine 2 words together

  • Does not include combinations that are “memorized chunks” (e.g., “thank you”, “bye bye”) True word combinations examples are “ball gone”, “eat more”, or “hi baby”.


Since these kids are doing well in other areas like social skills or with their receptive language, parents and pediatricians might assume that they will catch up on their own and actually, many do outgrow their "late talking" on their own. But unfortunately many do not catch up to other kids their age.


In fact 20-30% of kids do not outgrow "late talking" on their own.


What are the Risk Factors?


Risk factors that have been identified to help determine if a child is likely to have continuing language problems. This makes it easier to understand if a child is a late talker who will be one of the 30% of children who do not outgrow it on their own.


  1. quiet as an infant; little babbling

  2. a history of ear infections

  3. limited number of consonant sounds (eg. p, b, m, t, d, n, y, k, g, etc.)

  4. does not link pretend ideas and actions together while playing

  5. does not imitate (copy) words

  6. uses mostly nouns (names of people, places, things), and few verbs (action words)

  7. difficulty playing with peers (social skills)

  8. a family history of communication delay, learning or academic difficulties

  9. a mild comprehension (understanding) delay for his or her age

  10. uses few gestures to communicate


Current research strongly suggests that a "wait-and-see" approach with late talkers is outdated and delays treatment that can make a very difference for the child.

What to Do if Your Toddler is a Late Talker


If you've noticed your child has a limited vocabulary as well as any of these risk factors, consulting a speech-language pathologist may be a good idea. And research has shown that kids with the last three risk factors (family history, comprehension problems, or few gestures) have the greatest risk for a persistent language delay.


What if Your Child Catches Up on Their Own?

At Speech Therapy that Works, we recommend that even kids who seem to catch up on their own get speech therapy intervention. Why? Because even though many of these toddlers catch up by the time they start school, studies have shown that they continue to have problems with some aspects of language (e.g. grammar).

To get help with diagnosis or treatment, or to schedule a free consultation with a speech therapist, please contact me at Speech Therapy that Works.


References

Ellis, E. & Thal, D. (2008). Early Language Delay and Risk for Language Impairment. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 15: 93-100.Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (2008, May 16). Mixed Results For Late-talking Toddlers. ScienceDaily. 16 May 2008. Web. 10 Jun. 2011.Rice, M. L., Taylor, C. L., & Zubrick, S.R. (2008). Language outcomes of 7-year-old children with or without a history of late language emergence at 24 months. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 51, 394-407.Olswang, L.B., Rodriguez, B. & Timler, G. (1998). Recommending Intervention for Toddlers With Specific Language Learning Difficulties: We May Not Have All the Answers, But We Know a Lot. American Journal of Speech Language Pathology, 7, 23 - 32.

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