For the first 12 months of a child’s life, parents are focused mostly on developmental milestones like learning to sit up, crawling, eating solids, learning to walk, sleep patterns, etc. Around 10 to 12 months of age is when a child should be starting to say their first words. Prior to saying their first words, we are looking to hear babbling, jargoning, and trying to copy sounds and words from adults. Usually a parent will become more concerned when by 15 to 18 months, their child still has not said his/her first word. At that point, parents are starting to wonder if their child is a “late talker”.
A late talker is a child who has fairly age-appropriate understanding of language, but with reduced expressive vocabulary compared to other children of the same age. They tend to compensate with gestures to communicate with others. A typical late talker will likely outgrow their language difficulties without needing much intervention by 3 to 5 years of age. If a child does not fit the profile of being a late talker, he or she may also have difficulty understanding language or have motor speech/pronunciation difficulties holding back there expressive language development.
So is your child a late talker or does your child have difficulties that require more specific intervention? A useful resource is the Hanen Centre’s program for late talkers called Target Word (copywrite symbol here). Strategies addressed in this program are specifically for children who we suspect are typical late talkers. Strategies taught to parents for supporting a late talker may include “labeling”. Labelling means to remember to say the names of things, actions, basic descriptors for your child while they are focused and jointly attending with you. Another strategy for a child who is using single words is called “expanding”. Expanding means repeating what your child has just said and adding one more word to their utterance (e.g., Child: ball. Adult: Red ball. Bouncy ball!). What is also useful is for parents to track the number of words their late talker has and then to monitor the vocabulary growth. If vocabulary growth is stagnant or continues to be slow, he/she might not be considered a typical “late talker”, but a child who needs more specific support with developing their language skills.
At Smile Speech Therapy, we are professionally trained to help treat children who might be typical “late talkers “as well as identify children that might have difficulties in other areas of communication: delayed receptive and expressive language, social communication difficulties, pronunciation or motor speech difficulties. If you are unsure whether your child is showing signs of being a typical “late talker” or there are difficulties in other areas, the first step is to have an assessment completed by a qualified Speech-Language Pathologist who can give you insight about your child’s communication development.