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  • Lisa Cooseman, OTR/L, MS

Speech & Language Highlight: Is Your Child a Late Talker?

Is Your Child A Late Talker?

Have you ever looked at your child’s peers and wished your child communicated like they did? Have you been frustrated because you try to have him or her imitate a word but he or she just won’t? Have you ever thought, “I just wish he or she would say ________?” It is possible that your child is a “late talker.”

Milestones and Late Talking: Generally speaking, a child says his or her first word around the age of 12 months. He or she will learn more words and add to his or her vocabulary between the ages of 12 months and 24 months.

According to The Hanen Centre, a child is considered a late talker if he or she:

  • Is 18-20 months and has fewer than 24 words

  • Is 21-24 months and has fewer than 40 words

  • Is 24-30 months and has fewer than 100 words

  • Is 24 months and has limited word combinations

Some children will “catch up” on their own. It is difficult to predict who will catch up and who will not. The Hanen Centre has compiled a list of risk factors for children who may exhibit later language delays:

  • quiet as an infant; little babbling

  • a history of ear infections

  • limited number of consonant sounds (e.g. p, b, m, t, d, n, y, k, g)

  • does not link pretend ideas and actions together while playing

  • does not imitate (copy) words

  • uses mostly nouns (names of people, places, things) and few verbs (action words)

  • difficulty playing with peers (social skills)

  • a family history of communication delay, learning, or academic difficulties

  • a mild comprehension (understanding) delay for his or her age

  • uses few gestures to communicate

Because it is so difficult to predict who will catch up on his or her own, speech and language therapy along with using strategies at home are recommended for almost all late talkers. Goals will be written with the parents’ input to increase the child’s vocabulary, spontaneous words and phrases, and social interactions with peers.

Play-Based Therapy at Leaps and Bounds: A young child’s occupation is play, so therapy is generally play-based. Vocabulary and language stimulation will be provided through playing with trucks, cars, bubbles, kitchen sets, balls, and more. In play-based therapy, children also engage in movement activities such as swings, the trampoline, the rock wall, and the zip line, as movement can help increase language production. Speech-language pathologists at Leaps and Bounds also work with a child on communicating via sign language, pictures, or a device while they are learning to speak verbally. Finally, our speech-language pathologists work on imitation skills through the imitation hierarchy (gross motor, fine motor, oral motor, and then speech).

Using Home Strategies: With children who are “late talkers,” it is essential for parents to work on strategies at home. Speech-language pathologists at Leaps and Bounds provide a list of strategies for parents as well as demonstrate the strategies so that the parents can implement them with success. Our speech-language pathologists should check in with the parents weekly to see how the strategies are working at home.

Success Story: Combining play-based therapy and working on strategies at home helps children meet their goals quicker. Last fall, a 2 ½ year old boy was referred to Leaps and Bounds because he was only using approximately 10 words and was not combining words into short phrases. His parents were concerned because he was unable to communicate with friends his own age. After a consultation and evaluation, speech and language therapy was recommended. Therapy incorporated preferred, novel, and movement activities. Parents were given strategies to implement at home. With weekly therapy and parents utilizing the strategies at home, this little boy was saying up to 9-word sentences by Thanksgiving! Therapy helped take this child’s language to the next level and give him the boost he needed.

Summer Activity Ideas: As we move into summer months, there will be plenty of language opportunities to be found. Here are 10 fun summer activities ideas for you to do:

• Set up a sprinkler in the backyard and discuss the words back, forth, high, low, more, less, run, walk, jump, water, and drop. • Color with chalk on the sidewalk and talk about the colors, shapes, and vocabulary associated with whatever the pictures you are drawing. • Go to the swimming pool and talk about water, deep, shallow, swim, bathing suit, sandals, back, forth, under, and above. • Talk about the different colors and items on a beach towel. • If you are going on a vacation, talk about what it means to pack, what goes in the suitcase, if you are flying or driving, and vocabulary associated with cars or planes. • Look at the clouds and talk about what shapes you see. • See a movie and talk about what happened in the movie. • Go to the library and pick out a new book to read together. • Eat a popsicle outside and talk about the color, shape, size, temperature, and if it is melting or not. • Watch fireworks and talk about the colors, sounds, and shapes.

What Should You Do:

If you are concerned that your child may be a late talker, please call the Leaps and Bounds office at (636) 928-5327 or click the link below to set up a free consultation with one of our speech-language pathologists. It is also advised that you have your child’s hearing evaluated to rule out hearing impairment.


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