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  • Writer's pictureCarissa Johnson

Late Talkers: When “Wait-and-See” is Not Enough

Updated: Aug 26, 2022


By the time children turn two, they typically produce at least 100 words. These words may be familiar people and objects, and can also include a variety of action words, descriptors, location phrases and simple pronouns . Once children have a variety of parts of speech in their vocabularies, they begin to combine two words into phrases that are not memorized chunks. Examples of novel two-word combinations would include “my car,” "daddy go” or “ truck down.”

Yet, not all children develop at the same rate. Every child is unique and will develop at their own pace. As a parent, noticing differences between siblings and peers can often cause you to worry about your child’s communication development. Many parents turn to Google and search "‘my toddler is not talking yet" or seek advice from family/friends. Phrases such as “he’s a late talker” and "she’ll talk when she wants to” begin to be thrown around. Pediatricians, parents, and speech/language pathologists sometimes disagree on the appropriate time to refer for a speech/language evaluation, since some children do seem to “catch up” on their own. But what does the term “late talker” really mean and how does it differ from a language delay?

Late talkers typically have a good understanding of language, are able to follow directions, can interact socially, and have appropriate play skills; they have a specific delay in expressive language . Professionals tend to diagnose late talkers by assessing vocabulary size and word combinations. Children who produce fewer than 50 words and do not produce simple two-word phrases by 24 months of age are considered late talkers. Additionally, children are often assessed as to whether or not they demonstrated any sign of a language/vocabulary spurt between 18-24 months.

While late talkers do not necessarily need weekly therapy, ongoing monitoring by a speech-language pathologist is important. Once a baseline level of language development is achieved, the speech-language pathologist can determine if home strategies can address vocabulary and expressive language growth and can monitor for language spurts.

Children who present as late talkers tend to catch up to their peers by the ages of 3-5 years old, but could be at risk for developing later language or literacy difficulties.

General Risk Factors for late talkers (reported by ASHA)

  • Gender, boys are more at risk

  • Delayed motor development

  • Lower birth weight or babies born at less than 37 weeks

  • Early Language Development, language skills at 12 months tend to be a good predictor of communication skills at 2 years

  • Family history of late talkers


The following red flags are indicators that a child is not likely to catch up with peers, and a wait-and-see approach is not appropriate:

  • The child used limited babbling and jargon as an infant

  • There is a history of ear infections

  • The child does not imitate words

  • The child uses only a small number of consonant sounds (e.g., p, b, m)

  • The child does not use gestures to communicate

  • The child demonstrates poor social skills or play skills

  • The child does not seem to understand questions or direction

What Should You Do?

You know your child best. You don’t have to wait and see if you think there might be a problem. And you don’t have to guess if your child will catch up. You can have your child seen by a speech-language pathologist. We will talk to you about your concerns and assess how well your child understands, speaks, and uses gestures.

We can give you ideas about how to help your child talk.

Trust your instincts! Find out if your child is a late talker or has a language delay!!Call Play On Words Therapy Solutions to schedule a consultation today!!


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