Hey there! So is your toddler not talking? Do you think your child might be a late talker? You are not alone.
The fact that you are currently looking into ways to help your sweet baby is a HUGE step. Way to go!
The good news is, there are a lot of things you can do to help your late talker speed up his/her language. For that, you’ve come to the right place because I’m a certified early childhood speech-language pathologist and mom to two littles.
Related Article: Tips to Help Your Child Talk
When should I be worried about a late talker?
There are several speech and language milestones that are important to consider when thinking about late talkers. Here’s a quick overview of some things your child should be able to do during their early years:
- 1 Year Old: understanding simple directions and saying first word
- 18 months: saying several new words and pointing to things they want
- 2 Year Old: pointing to many familiar objects when named, using phrases with two or more words
- 3 Year Old: naming most things around them, holding a back and forth convesration with full sentences.
These above milestones are helpful when thinking about speech and language development, but many children do not reach these milestones right on time. There is no need to worry if your 18-month-old is only saying 23 words, or if your 2-year-old only has 12 two-word phrases.
It’s time to worry about your late talker if they aren’t using words, gestures, or sounds to communicate basic things by age 1. They should at least be pointing and trying to make sounds at this age.
Your 2-year-old should have at least 50 words they can use and a few two-word combinations.
If your child is not reaching these benchmarks, it may be time to get them evaluated for speech-language therapy.
Related Article: Does My Toddler Need Speech Therapy?
What Causes a Late Talker?
There are many things that can contribute to why a child might be a late talker. Check out the list below to find out the reasons your child might be behind in their language development.
- Being male: Males are more likely to have language delays and disorders than females.
- Premature birth: Children born before 37 weeks are at a higher risk for being a late talker.
- Family history: If other familiy members have had late language emergence (that’s fancy talk for late talkers), children are more likely to have the same difficulties.
- Siblings: Children with siblings are more likely to be late talkers than someone who is an only child.
- Mother’s education: Children who have mother’s with lower education are more likley to be late talkers.
- Mother’s socio-economic status: Children who have mom’s that have a low socio-economic status are more likely to be late talkers.
- Screen-time: Children under 18 months old with too much screen time are more likely to have a language delay.
Check out this great article for more information.
Does a Late Talker Mean Autism
First and foremost, no. A late talker does not mean your child has autism.
As you saw above, there are tons of reasons why a child might be a late talker!
There are two main differences between late talkers and autistic children.
The first difference is that autistic children have some social differences in addition to difficulty with language development. This might mean that the child does not make eye contact, does not respond to their own name, or does not smile at people.
The second big difference is that children with autism also have restricted interests or routines. (That’s the fancy way to say it, but let me break it down.) Basically, autistic children often have unique interests that may seem like an obsession. They may also have a really difficult time if their normal routine is changed.
So although there are some similarities between children that are late talkers and children that are autistic, there are also some major differences.
Related Article: Language Delay vs Autism
This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link. Please see my disclosure for more details.
Once you’ve identified that your child is behind (either you’ve checked out the source above, talked to your doctor, or had some well-intentioned but annoying someone point out to you that your toddler is not talking), here are some steps you can take to help a child who is doing little to no talking.
How Do I Help a Late Talker?
1. Give choices between two things.
This is one of my favorite tricks to teach parents if their children are late talkers because it’s so simple! You just have to make a change in how you present something to your kids. So here’s the thing, you have to stop anticipating every single one of your child’s needs.
This is one of the great and sometimes unhelpful things about being an awesome mama, we can actually get too good! This is what I mean: your child lets you know they need something (through whining, or maybe pointing, or sometimes screaming at the top of their lungs) and many times, as moms we know exactly what they want and we just give it to them.
Don’t do it every time. By constantly anticipating their needs you are missing out on some great opportunities for them to tell you what they want. Chances are if you have been doing this for a while it will take time to unlearn this.
But a great way to start is by giving your child two choices (whenever this is possible, and it isn’t always). If they are thirsty, you can say, “Do you want milk or water?” and they may not respond right away but give them the chance. If they don’t use words, take out both the cup of milk and the cup for water and let them point or reach for the one they want. Then you can say, “You chose the ________. Okay, now you can drink _________.”
This is an important step because you want to give them the word so they have a better chance of saying it on their own in the future. Doing this creates more opportunities to tell you what they want and that is a great place to start!
2. Use baby sign.
Using baby sign has been on the rise in recent years, and with good reason. Baby sign language is a great way to help your child learn to communicate before they start to verbalize. Remember, there are a surprising amount of things your little one has to have mastered before they can talk. It’s completely crazy what those little minds are capable of!
One of the best advantages of sign is how you can basically make your child produce the sign by using your hands to shape their sweet little fingers into the desired shape. This isn’t an option with words, since you can’t make your child say something. Check out my post here for a more in-depth take on how to get started with baby sign.
Once they get the hang of it they will realize that using a sign gets them what they want, and they’ll want to do it on their own. It’s so mind-blowing when your kid finally uses a sign on their own! Here’s a link to a great little board book about baby sign for you and your child.
3. Make up a repetitive “game” to encourage your late-talker to communicate through play.
I love this strategy because if you do it right, it is highly motivating to your child since it can be gosh darn fun! All you have to do is find a toy (like this one here from Doug & Melissa or this super cute set) that has multiple pieces so you can hoard all of them. (I know it sounds like you are being a bully to your own child, but trust me, it works.)
Before the hoarding begins, let your child explore the toy with you. Choose a single word to use over and over again during play and start to say it every time you do the same targeted action.
Here’s an example of an easy setup using the toy I mentioned above. Gather all of the puzzle pieces in your lap with the board between both of you. Hold out one of the pieces (maybe start with a favorite piece, so they get the hang of it!), and then say “piece” or “puzzle” or even “please” and ask your child to repeat it. Just be sure you pick the same word to use over and over again so your child gets to practice. Then wait for them to try it out.
If they don’t say it right away, repeat it a few more times and show them that they get the piece when they say the targeted word. Be sure to give them credit for any attempt at the word. So if you chose the target word “piece” you can give them credit for saying “ee” or “pee”. Once they try it out, give them the piece and keep playing.
If they don’t get the hang of it right away, that’s okay. Keep playing with the item and say the target word over and over again. In order to avoid frustration, give your child some “freebies” (where they don’t have to say the word to get the targeted object).
4. Praise your late talker for any attempts to speak.
This one is simple but super important! Anytime your child even tries to say something (even if you have no idea what they are actually saying) give them credit. If they say “wa” for water, reward them by giving them the water and SAYING, “great job, you said water!”, even though they didn’t really say it.
In the case of the late talker, the effort is what we want to praise. The specific sounds will come later as they hear you say it correctly and they refine their own sounds. And moms, sometimes your child might say words and you really don’t know what word they are going for, so MAKE IT UP!
I do this with my little sweetie quite a lot because she’s got a lot to say, but she’s not speaking very clearly right now. Sometimes she’ll say “baba” (which could mean any number of things-ball, bottle, our dog’s name, etc) and I just choose what I think she’s saying. I say, “Oh you wanted the ball?” And that works a lot of the time. If your child wanted something else entirely, they might keep trying and that’s good too. Just be sure to honor their attempts because they are trying!
5. Create visuals to support their language.
Admittedly this one takes more work, but it’s a super effective tool for kids who aren’t saying many words. Lots of times children who don’t do great verbally are wonderful visual learners. So help them by playing to their strengths! (Think about the ways you learn and how you need to adapt things sometimes to make them make sense to you; it’s the same thing.)
This strategy involves taking pictures of common objects they like or grabbing some off the internet and letting the child point to the item they want. Start small and target just one routine you do throughout the day (mealtime, playtime, bath, etc.).
Let’s use the bath example (assuming your child thinks that bath time is fun and not torturous). Take (or get) a picture of their towel, bubbles, and a few of their favorite bath toys (here is one fun idea). You don’t have to make them huge, and you might want to laminate them or put them in a plastic cover sheet. (You can get a really cheap laminator here and this one includes those little plastic cover sheets.)
Then present two or three of the pictures at the same time and ask your child what they want. If they point to a picture of the bubbles, say “You want more bubbles” and then give them more bubbles. It’s a fun way for them to get what they want and work on their communication at the same time!
Now that you are armed with several ways to help your late talker, choose one and start using it today! Most of these ideas are simple enough that you really can start right away. And why not? Let’s get your child talking! If you have questions or success stories, drop them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!