How To Know If Your Child Is A Late Talker

by | Mar 29, 2023

Speech is something that a lot of parents are worried about. When will my child talk? Are they hitting their talking milestones appropriately?

A lot of parents have questions and fears about speech and I am here to help answer those questions and hopefully give you the tools to determine if your child is a late talker.

Keep reading if you are wondering how to tell if your child is a late talker!

What Is the Average Talking Age?

Most children say their first word between the ages of 12 and 18 months old. This is not a hard-set milestone though, some kiddos say their first word earlier or later.

12-18 months for the first word is a generalized age.

  • Babbling (9-12 months) – Your baby may be babbling and trying to have a babble conversation with you around this age.
  • Understanding directions and responding to name (12-18 months) – From 12-18 months kiddos will start to understand single step directions and respond to their name.
  • Putting together responses (18-24 months) – Around 18-24 months your toddler will start to respond to you when asking questions and be able to say at least 2 word responses.

If your kiddos isn’t hitting these milestones, don’t fret! These milestones help gauge where your baby/toddler is developmentally but are by no means hard deadlines.

Related Post: How Many Words Should a 18 Month Old Say?

Who is Considered a Late Talker?

Late talkers are classified as children 24 months or older that know less than 50 words and cannot say simple 2-word commands/questions/phrases.

This criteria is what a professional will look for when evaluating your toddler. Knowing what to look for is key in the decision to get help outside of the home.

Types of Language

Did you know that there are actually 2 different types of language? Those being expressive and receptive language.

These 2 type of language are different ways that you can see how your child is communicating.

  • Expressive Language – Expressive language is how your child uses words and gestures to express themselves and communicate their wants and needs.
  • Receptive Language – Receptive language is how your child perceives the information that they are being told.

Causes of Late Talking

Late talking usually has a root cause. It is important to identify the root cause(s) in order to properly support your child and have the ability to facilitate their needs.

  • Preemies – Children that are born before 37 weeks or have a low birth weight are statistically more likely to be late talkers. This is thought to be because they did not have an adequate amount of time to fully develop in the womb, leaving them behind in some areas.
  • Ear Issues– Children that have ear issues like recurrent ear infections or are hard of hearing are more likely to be late talkers because they cannot hear properly.
  • Multiples– Twins, triplets and so forth are more likely to be late talkers. Often because multiples are premature, and not given enough time to adequately develop in the womb.
  • Anticipation of needs– If the parents/caregivers/older siblings do not encourage the toddler to ask for what they need or want, they are less likely to ask on their own.
  • Family History – Sometimes, it can be more of a genetic type thing!

Related Post: Why Your 18 Month Old Might Not Be Talking But Understands What You Are Saying

Differences Between Speech Delay or Language Delay and Disorders

You may see the wording speech delay and language disorder used interchangeably, however, they are not the same thing. The wording may cause some confusion on your part as a parent because they can seem like the same thing.

Listed below are the definitions of speech delay, language delay, speech disorder, language disorder, and late language emergence.

Speech Delay

A speech delay is an inability to speak at the expected ages. These milestones include:

  • Not able to say simple words by 12 months old
  • Understand simple commands by 18 months old
  • Use 2 word combinations by 24 months old
  • Speak in complete sentences by 3 years old

Language Delay

A language delay is an inability to form complete sentences. This means that they may speak clearly, but may only be able to put together two or three words at a time.

Speech Disorder

A speech disorder refers to the difficulty to form words, sounds, sentences, etc. It can be caused by either oral or hearing problems. Your child may be using words or phrases to express their ideas but are still hard to understand.

Language Disorder

A language disorder refers to the issues relating to comprehension of or use of language. Children with language disorders struggle with the form, content, function, or any combination of language.

Late Language Emergence

Late language emergence, or LLE, is a language delay without any other disorder or diagnosed delay. These are a concern because they can evolve into other disorders, such as social communication disorder, autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, learning disability, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Related Post: Speech Regression: What Concerned Parents Should Know

Signs That Your Child is a Late Talker

There are multiple signs that you may have a late talker on your hands. Some of these signs are:

  • Little babbling as an infant
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Lack of gestures to communicate
  • Difficulty playing with their peers
  • Difficulty understanding simple directions

Below are some specifics to what I have listed above.

Very Little Babbling as an Infant

A lack of babbling from your infant can be a big sign of a late talker. Infants are wired to learn to communicate, which starts with babbling.

A lack of babbling is an indicator that they may not be hearing you talk to them for some reason. Don’t panic though if your infant isn’t a talker; some babies are quieter than others.

Frequent Ear Infections

Frequent ear infections are a major concern because it inhibits the ability of your child to hear what is being said around them, and hear themselves. This can cause a delay in language because they can’t hear what language is supposed to sound like or what they sound like compared to others.

Sometimes, there can be damage to the eardrum from consistent and frequent ear infections causing your little one to be hard of hearing.

If this is the case, you may consider having their pediatrician refer your child for a hearing test.

Doesn’t Use Gestures to Communicate

Using gestures is one of the earliest forms of communication for babies. If they aren’t using basic gestures, it may be because they don’t realize that they can communicate.

Difficult Time Playing with Peers

Watching their interactions with their peers is a great way to tell how well they are communicating. If your child doesn’t know how to communicate with their peers, how would they be able to play with them?

Play time might become frustrating for your little one and even some kiddos around your little if they cannot communicate. Watch for this when your little is playing with peers.

Difficulty Understanding Directions

Having to repeat yourself to your child is one of the most annoying parts of being a parent. However, it also might be a sign that they are a late talker.

The communication barrier may be the cause of these frustrations. If your child has an obstruction of hearing, they may not be able to understand what you are saying or if you are even talking to them.

Supporting and Encouraging a Late Talker

If you are currently dealing with a late talker, don’t think that there is nothing you can do. There are many different ways that you can try to help them move forward and correct these impediments.

These are some of my favorite ways to encourage any child’s speech development, especially late talkers.


Reading to your child is such a great way to push a child’s communication skills forward. This is because they are both listening and seeing the words simultaneously.

This multifaceted form of communication will help keep them focused and invested in what is happening. Books with bright colored pictures are fantastic to use while reading to your child.

You can read the words and then describe what is happening in the picture as well.

Related Post: How Does Reading Improve Speech for Your Child

Speak Clearly

If your child is having trouble communicating, the first step is to make sure you are speaking clearly. A problem with poor communication will not get any better if they don’t have a clear example to strive toward.

Remember to look directly in their eyes when talking, especially when giving directions.

Ask Questions

Asking questions can be one of the best ways to develop communication skills. The one thing you want to do is make sure to avoid yes/no questions.

Making them think through their answers makes them work through and build their answer instead of just saying what is easiest. Giving choices builds a sense of independence and confidence.

Show Pictures of Their Favorite Things

Pictures are one of the best resources you can have. Showing them pictures of their favorite superhero, animal, person, etc., opens a pathway to multiple different questions and basic vocabulary.

Cut out some pictures of siblings, friends, grandparents, pets, foods, places, things, etc. Ask questions about who they are, what they are doing, names, etc!

Name Body Parts

Having your child identify body parts is another simple yet effective way to get your child’s communication skills progressing. There is nothing easier to work on than something they have with them all the time.

Point to the different body parts on your body and say what they are, then do the same for their body. Eventually you should be able to ask questions about what body part you are pointing to and have them answer.

Listen to Music

Music is great for encouraging speech. Little ones love music, and can break them out of the shell of not talking.

Turn on some nursery rhymes and fun songs for them to listen to!

Getting a Speech Language Pathologist Involved

While working on the problem on your own is beneficial, you may not be completely prepared or equipped with the proper tools to effectively help your child. Involving a professional is never bad, and definitely doesn’t mean you are failing as a parent.

It only means that you want to do whatever you can to make sure your child is successful. By getting an SLP (speech-language pathologist) involved you are actively taking a step to improve your child’s communication and helping set up your child for success.

Frequently Asked Questions About Late Talkers

Having a presumed late talker can be scary and difficult to process. These are frequently asked questions and accompanying answers about late talkers.

When should I start worrying if I think I have a late talker?

Late talkers are classified as children 2 and up with less than 50 words in the bank of words they know. These children also cannot combine words like “help please” or “more milk”.

If your child seems to be missing the mark on these milestones, you may consider getting them evaluated.

Will my late talker ever catch up?

Most children labeled as late talkers do catch up to their peers! Early intervention like getting a speech evaluation and therapy is the best way to help your late talker.

I hope I was able to help you determine if you have a late talker or not. If you do have a late talker, don’t fret! Speech therapy is the best way to get your little one on track.

Sometimes late talkers need just a bit more encouragement and help. Remember, it’s more than okay to get help if you thing your child may be a late talker for any reason!

Early intervention is key in getting your little one on track.

Did you have a late talker? Did speech therapy help them? I would love to hear your story in the comments below!