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Late-Talkers Not Always Cause for Concern

By , SparkPeople Blogger
My mom always likes to tell people how I was talking in complete sentences at 18 months old.  So when my children reached that age and weren't saying much at all, she kept asking "Why aren't they talking?"  I didn't feel pressure for my kids to talk early, and told her that I knew they comprehended most of what I said.  So if they didn't talk until they were ready, I was fine with it.  I talk to my children a lot (on their level, not using baby-talk) and read to them daily.  I felt like I was doing what I needed to do to help them develop good communication skills, and sometime after turning 2, the words starting coming (and haven't stopped since!)
Any time I see infomercials for products that claim to help babies learn to talk, I have to chuckle.  I think baby sign language is great (and have used it with both of my kids), but I didn't feel like pushing my kids to talk earlier than most was going to make them more successful later in life.  I respect parents who feel differently, but that's just my opinion.  A new research study has found that late-talkers are at no greater risk for behavioral and emotional problems than toddlers who talk much earlier.
The Australian study followed 1,400 children from age 2 until they were 17.  Parents were asked about their child's language skills six times over the course of the study.  Researchers "compared 142 late-talking children who had no other developmental delay to 1,245 others who were on track with language skills. The researchers found that late-talking children tended to exhibit behavioral and emotional issues when they were younger, but these problems diminished as the children grew to be more proficient speakers."
Experts note some flaws in the research, such as the exclusion of children who were diagnosed with a developmental or intellectual disability.  The study also doesn't explain how many of the late-talkers had professional intervention as they were growing up, so there's no way to know whether or not help also prevented behavioral and emotional problems.
Experts also warn that it's never a good idea to ignore warning signs if a child's language skills are delayed.  Most kids catch up eventually, but they recommend some professional intervention between ages 3 and 5 if a child isn't talking.  The majority of children begin to develop a vocabulary and string 2 or 3 word phrases together around age 2.  Between 7 and 18 percent of toddlers don't meet this benchmark.
What do you think? 

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My hearing son grew up in his early years hearing me read or speaking to his dad, his dad and both his grandmothers talking to him. We also used baby sign with him and he readily grasped the concepts and signed what he wanted. He said the random words here and there, At some point, after his third birthday but a while before he turned 4, he suddenly "figured out" how to actually say the words. We quickly learned that he already knew the words and knew how to use them correctly in sentences - he just had been listening all the time but not "practicing" (at least not where we could hear!?). He is almost 20 and he basically has not shut up since then!! (Supposedly Einstein didn't start speaking until he was like seven or eight years old, so we already know how brilliant he was!). Report
My son is turning 3 but he hasn't talked a word other then daddy, makes me worried. Report
I really hate to see competition started at such a young age. Comparing kids against each other just ends up in a lot of hurt feelings. The adults need to remember to set up goals that can be met by that individual child. As an adult I learned to compare what I did to what I did before. That really helped me mature and become all that I could be. We should assist children in doing the same. Report
According to my mum, I didn't talk till I was seven! And once I found the joy of talking, it seems that I can't stop, haha. Report
While I believe as parents we shouldn't be "anal" about kids doing things by a specific age, I felt I NEEDED to respond to this blog! It can be EXTREMELY detrimental if parents ignore the signs of potential delays in speech development.... There can be ALOT of issues -- and no amount of talking to them or "signing" with them will solve those issues (not that I'm saying NOT to do those things but that might not be "the answer")....

I have to admit that I stupidly dismissed a friend's concerns when her son wasn't speaking when he was between 18 months and 2 years old (can't remember exactly how old he was at the time)... Her pediatrician was blowing her concerns off too... But THANKFULLY my friend wasn't to be dissuaded....she "felt" something was WRONG...

And it's a good thing she DID... Her son was diagnosed with a condition called Apraxia and according to what she told me, this can become quite SERIOUS if NOT diagnosed by age 3!!! He had to undergo intensive speech therapy -- as well as physical therapy etc.... He's doing just beautifully now (he's 16) and you'd never know all he went through -- but the situation could have had a VERY different outcome! Report
We started getting our son assistance at 18 months because he didn't say one word but was great in every other way. At 3 and after once a week help for 18 months he still didn't say a word. A wonderful pre-school teacher close to retirement told me to do tongue exercises with him. She said to give him food on a spoon but make him reach for the food with his tongue. Within two weeks he was talking complete sentences and was out of early intervention in one month. He is now almost 11 and one real articulate and well behaved child. We will always be grateful to his first pre-school teacher. Bottom line: his tongue muscle had not kept up with his other muscles and needed some exercise. Good Luck to all with this issue!! Report
My son talked late and I was concerned. He wasn't speaking in anything coherent. It turned out that he had hearing problems. This is very important to check out. He had 5 operations in his ears before he was 4 years old. They told us that he would be delayed and have difficulty catching up without intervention but the moment he could hear correctly, he started speaking in full sentences! Always make sure there are no physical problems before you "sit and wait". Report
Sometimes I think we get in too much of a sweat and a tizzy over our kids. Our daughter was a late speaker, but I wasn't concerned because I remember my brother was also a late speaker and he is now on the most verbose people I know. Our daughter has always done well in school and scores very well in national tests. Assess for autism and hearing problems, but in the meantime relax! Our kids are already under huge pressure these days. Report
Our DD didn't say a word until over 2 and then started in sentences. And she was reading at 3. Report
Dear Coach Jen,
As a speech/language pathologist working in public elementary education, I am also concerned about the possible effect your blog may have. When one of the Sparkpeople coaches publishes a blog, we "Sparkers" read it and use the information because we trust the coaches to have the knowledge base for the information in that blog. But when a coach is not an expert in the topic, then the blog should be clearly identified as "opinion". If this blog misguides just one parent to make the choice to wait and see when that child could have been assisted through a hearing evaluation and/or early speech/language intervention, then publishing your opinion in this particular forum was wrong. Report
I am a speech/language pathologist. Late talking is not ALWAYS cause for concern but a lot of times it is. It is much wiser to have a complete evaluation at an early age to determine if therapy is needed rather than have a "wait and see" attitude. A lot can be determined with a complete evaluation. Report
Neither of my two sons talked early, but like you we never talked "baby talk" to them and read to them often. They are now 19 and 13, and both have been consistant honor roll students, are avid readers and have excellent communication skills. Keep up what you are doing and your children will do well. Report
My 12 year old was a late talker but could hit a ball with a ball when he was 2. My pediatrician said his brain was working on his large motor skills and not to worry. We always talked to him (never ever in baby talk) and gently repeated a word that he mispronounced and read to him every day. Ten years later you can't shut him up and he still loves to play baseball and does not have behavior problems (other then being a normal 12 year old boy:) Please note, as others mentioned early intervention is a key when there is a problem but in my particular case he was "average" in every other area. Report
I can't stress enough that it's important to use your instincts and stay in touch with your child's pediatrician about ANY concerns you may have about your child's speech or development - even if they ultimately don't amount to any developmental issues/problems. My son didn't speak at all, not one word, at 18 months, so at our pediatrician's guidance we sought early intervention services and further assessments at a developmental clinic. We were able to get him into speech therapy almost immediately, and at 2 1/2 years, he was placed on the autism spectrum. Getting started with the process EARLY gave us access to therapy and other resources that have made a HUGE difference in his growth and quality of life. Two years later, he is a GREAT talker and has an awesome vocabulary.

So my $0.02 is that I don't think it's absolutely necessary for a child to speak by x months old to have a "successful" life, BUT at the same time speech delays shouldn't be written off since they really CAN be an indication of a valid issue that needs attention. Report
They always say "what's normal is this, and your child isn't normal" or something silly. Well who says whatever isn't normal? Every child is unique! We thought we all talked for my little brother (#7 of 8:) I'm #3), and then finally at 2.5 yrs he started talking a blue streak! He's so intelligent and starts college next month, and we're so proud of him. He's so talented, he could be a comedian or an actor, or something in communications!:) Report
I'm also a preschool teacher with a degree in human development... that doesn't make me an expert, but like others have said, it comes down to common sense. Talk talk talk to your children, read to them, have a good relationship with your child's doctor. Yes, early intervention is key, but don't panic if your child isn't speaking complete sentences at 15 or 18 months. If at 2 or 2 1/2, there isn't any language, discuss it with the doctor. My oldest used sign language and very few words until 2 years old. He hasn't shut up since!!! All kidding aside, this is your child and YOU need to be your child's advocate if you suspect its something more. Push and push till you get the answers that you need. One of my parents actually couldn't get the answers she needed when her child was young and went online and learned how to begin early intervention until she could get to a professional for more help. Report
I think this study is quite misleading with the exclusion of children with developmental delays, because speech issues/delay are a specific "flag" for certain issues such as autism spectrum disorders. I went through 18 months of being dismissed by my pediatrician because I was concerned about my son's speech delay. Turned out he has autism. Fortunately, through intervention and speech therapy, he has made enormous progress. Looking back, I wish I could kick that pediatrician in her shins for being so condescending.

I have 2 children with developmental disabilities. Early intervention is the key!
My career has been in child development, and I also am the parent of a late talker. I agree that talking, reading to your baby from birth is critical for development. Many times there is no cause for concern, but parents, err on the side of caution! If you have any concerns whatsoever, have your child assessed for their speech & language development. With the new research on brain development, we know that the earlier the intervention when there is a concern, the more likely that "catch up" will occur resulting in typical development. Don't wait. The precious plasticity of the brain declines the older the child gets. Report
I didn't start talking until after age 2. My mother said I never used babytalk but used full sentences when I did start. I was waiting until I was sure I had it right. Kids who talk late are watch, wait and learn kids. Report
My mum said I was talking at a very young age - under 18 months. My niece was talking 2-3 word sentences when she was 15 months old. My sister never said anything until she was 4 1/2 years old. Her vocab. was "Daddy yum yum moo moo!" (in other words, Daddy is milking the cows!) My grandmother said that my sister's first REAL words were rushing in behind my grandmother when SHE went to get her purse, and saying "where's my bloody cheque book" (My father used to say this all the time) so obviously she listened and took on board what was being said - LOL! Report
We always talked to our kids like we would anybody else. We didn't agree with using "baby talk" with our kids wanting them to be understood by others too. My daughter (first born) was not a late talker she started with words/sentences very young and you could have full blown conversations with her by the time she was 2. My son on the other hand was a late talker. When he was a baby (about 8 months) we joined a "sign-n-sing" class for babies just for fun, something to do with other kids his age. Still by the time he was 2 he was only verbalizing about 15 words, we had him tested and was told with his words and signs (they were ASL) he was far advanced for his age. He understood everything he was tested on he just wasn't ready to talk yet. He has a late birthday (late October) so he started Kindergarten when he was 4. Prior to starting Kindergarten we enrolled him in a speech class to help with his annuniciation. He advanced so quickly! Now he is 6, starting second grade in the fall and at the top of his class. His reading is off the charts. He does go to speech class during school to help with his "r" annunciation. He is liked very much in school and is a joy to be around. There are times when I think to myself "remember when he didn't talk that much" :) Report
Having a good relationship with a good pediatrician was helpful when our firstborn failed to talk in a "timely" way. -- Someone else noted they had never seen a child try to hard to communicate but speak only babble. (That was at 26 months.) The Dr. indicated that if he wasn't speaking by 2 1/2 yrs that we would run a battery of tests to checking hearing, etc. -- This was a dr. that KNEW my child and KNEW when or if a problem was presenting through regular contact, etc.
When our 2nd son was born a month later & 1st born was 27 months old, he went from saying nothing understandable to speaking in complete paragraphs! -- The same went for his learning to read, it was a bit slower than others. He couldn't seem to put sounds together to make words. He could identify the letters & sounds, but putting it all together just took longer for him.

He graduated HS last month AND received his AA from the local community college, with honors. So one way or the other he has adapted to his strengths and weaknesses. (Sometimes in conversation, he does not present himself as smart as he is as he trips over words and pronounces them incorrectly. -- He presents to me as a bit dyslexic. He gets the big picture, but sometimes trips over the details.)

When I studied about dyslexia to help a student in my classroom (I'm a certified elementary teacher), the one thing that stuck with me is that we all learn somewhere along a continuum. One shouldn't put kids into boxes or buttonhole them with labels. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and I always told my kids that the weak areas are the ones we have to work twice as hard at. (You don't get a "pass"!) Report
I agree that late talkers won't necessarily have problems later on. I do agree, however, that if they are not talking by 2 or 21/2, it's a good idea to have them checked, just to be sure that there's nothing serious going on.

The grandson of a close friend still wasn't talking at age 5. Doctors checked him out, and insisted nothing was wrong. At age 6, he was talking, but it was hard to understand him. But by 7 he was talking fine, and has been first in his class since first grade until now - he is currently in 5th grade, and is doing fine - excellent student, extroverted, a leader. Report
Both my children were late talkers. My daughter had babysitters concerned. Both started with paragraphs and have done very well!!!! Report
i didnt start talking till i was 7 years old and i think i am doing ok Report
My daughter was talking pretty much straight out of the womb, so when my son was 1 or 2 and not saying much, I called Early Childhood and had him tested. I was just a worrywart, but I'm glad I had him tested. It never hurts to be safe and get them tested. It didn't cost me anything, it didn't hurt anybody and it alleviated mine and my family's worries. Report
My oldest son, now five, was a late talker. He didn't talk until he was almost three. The doctor didn't become concerned until he was two and only had a vocabular of six words. I became concerned at 18 months and called our local school district for Early Access services. Part of the reason I called instead of waiting on the doctor was that Nicholas was starting to display tantrum behavior due to frustration at not being able to talk/communicate and get whatever it was that he wanted. We did everything we should have done from talking to him to reading to him. At one point, most of his toys were talking ones because we thought that if we weren't talking to him then his toys were and the more exposure to it the better. When he did finally start talking, his vocabulary just exploded and was clear as day. One of the first things he said to me to demonstrate his vocabulary was to state that he didn't want to watch Rocket (Little Einsteins); he wanted to watch the space ship (Star Trek). How's that for a vocabulary.

His speech delay hasn't seemed to hurt him, though we have just started him on medicine for ADHD. Report
My son (currently 14) was a late talker with no other developmental delays. On his second birthday, his pediatrician recommended that we sign him up for a free county-based screening and speech therapy program, on the theory that it's always better if we can prevent problems. They put him through a variety of tests, and provided him with a speech therapist who came to our house once a week.

Just a few months into the program, he tested out of it, because by then, he was 25% or more ahead of the curve. It was probably just his individual development trajectory, which could be described as one of periodic leaps and lags.

Even now, my husband still tells a story about my son and a trip to the zoo they took shortly after speech therapy ended. My son pointed to some sea lions basking in the sun at the National Zoo. He turned to my husband and announced: "Doze are pinnipeds!" to the amazement of my husband and other bystanders. Asked if he knew any others, my son said: "Wawuses." Asked if he knew why he were called pinnipeds, he said: "Dey have fwippers instead of feet!" As he began his school career, he started earning nicknames like: "the little professor" and "the human encyclopedia." He's still a lively talker, and he starts high school this fall.

In retrospect, I am sure he would have been fine without the speech therapy, but we didn't know that at the time, and we were happy that we lived in a county that makes sure everyone can get early childhood screening and educational services. A child who lived in our neighborhood some years ago was found to have unusual vision problems when she was in 1st or 2nd grade, and it was reportedly already too late to correct some of the problems. It's definitely better to catch issues early. Report
My daughter had the STRANGEST language when she was little. My sister-in-law even went so far as to have a speech therapist call me (with out letting me know first) to find out why my daughter was talking so strangely. I let him know that she was smart and trying to read, she just didnt speak English necessarily.
She went on to straight 'A's' all through school, AP classes, etc.
Dont worry about you childs speech at a young age- as long as you speak to them they will eventually talk. Reading to them helps, too.

And by the way- I spoke to my daughter all the time or we played together. Videos were limited and no computers or games. Report
I believe that there is no reason to panic if a child is developmentally age-appropriate in all other areas, if speech is delayed beyond two years. My grandson was recommended for Early Intervention for speech delay at 16 months, the therapist isn't even working on speech, he walked early (around 10 1/2 months) and is above average in fine and gross motor skills, 18 months old, he's trying to say everything we say to him including counting objects--to three.... Report
I believe that parents know their children and if they think that their child has a speech issue, they will do the necessary research to decide that. Some kids do things sooner than others. Some might walk sooner, or later or they may talk sooner or later.. as long as they are showing other signs of understanding, listening and basic words I would agree typically there is no cause for concern. Especially if they excel in every other way. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, there for I dont find it fair anyone accuses you of the promotion of avoiding early intervention in children that need it on a health site. I took it totally different. You are a mom who has no problems with your childs speech and are just saying that everyone grows at their own pace and that others should not harp on your motherly instincts and that is a very common opinion! I was one of those moms that was afraid my son could have speech issues before he turned two. My husband kept saying give it time. I read all the articles about where the kids should be at and he was mostly there. As soon as he turned two BAM! A whole different child and language! I think we were expecting him to be super fast like our daughter was, but every child is different! Both of our kids are excelling beyond belief as I am sure yours are as well :) Thanks for the blog! Report
This is the first post from Sparkpeople that has ever had me upset and concerned. As someone who has worked in Early Intervention, I saw this headline with trepidation. We already have a difficult enough time convincing parents, doctors, and legislators that Early Intervention IS something worthwhile, now a diet and healthy lifestyle website is jumping on the bandwagon? Speech delays (late-talking) can be signs of other issues, such as hearing difficulties, or even autism. It should NOT be ignored until the child is 3--anyone who has worked in Early Childhood will tell you the earlier a child gets services, the better their outcomes will be. There are certain windows for acquiring essential skills, and ignoring warning signs can lead to long-term issues. Sorry, this is one of my passions, and I hate seeing it discounted as "oh, don't worry, they'll talk when they want too." Before you publish an article about Early Childhood Development, talk to someone who actually works in Early Childhood. Report
I have five children & I made them talk when they were little when I knew they could say the word. If they wanted a drink, then they needed to ask. They all talked really early. I never will forget when I took my DD to have her looked at by the doctor and he asked "Well, what is the problem?" and SHE said "My ear hurts." LOL She'd started talking at about eight months. Now, my children didn't walk until they were about 15 months, so that wasn't fast. My nephews DD started walking at 7 months. Report
As a grandmother of 10 and a care taker of a 18 mo old... I agree that talking to them all day long about anything and everything is important! That's what makes their association between words and the world around them connect! Great blog! Report
As a preschool teacher, I think it's really important for parents to remember to do just as you did - to read regularly to their kids and to just generally talk to them all day (even if they can't talk back!). I find a lot of parents nowadays are so prone to just plunking their kids in front of the TV/computer for the better part of the day, and that does not help in their speech development. A little TV is fine, but if you aren't talking to your child for hours at a time, there is definitely a problem. Report
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