We all have a need to be understood. But few among us struggle to stitch a sentence together. Conversational breakdowns are common among people who are but not limited to hard of hearing, battling autism, or suffering from speech delays.

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My child is a late talker - what should I do?


As a parent, you anticipate your child’s milestones: first smile, first steps, first word. It is natural to be concerned if your child seems to reach certain stages more slowly than others their age, But what if your child is slow to talk? Will they catch up on their own? How do you know when you should seek advice or an assessment?


At what age should my child start talking?

There is no easy answer to when your child should start talking, as each child develops at a different rate, but there are certain language development milestones to watch for.

Developmental Milestones for Speech and Language

Age Range Behaviour
6 to 9 months
  • Turns towards parent or caregiver’s voice
  • Makes babbling sounds, such as ‘bababa’ or ‘dadada’
10 to 15 months
  • Waves ‘bye-bye’
  • Starts to say one or more recognisable words
18 months to 2 years
  • Says “no” and shake head
  • Points to show someone what they want
  • Uses simple words for people, objects or actions
  • May start to combine 2 or 3 words in a sentence
2 - 3 years
  • Points to things or pictures when they are named
  • Uses an increasing number of words
  • Says sentences with 2 to 4 words
  • Follows simple instructions

If you notice that your child is not reaching these milestones within the usual age range, speak to your child’s doctor and ask for their speech and language to be assessed.

Research estimates that around 5% to 8% of children experience speech and language delays during their pre-school years.

 

Is my child just a late talker or do they have a speech and language delay?

A late talker is defined as a toddler (between 18-30 months) who has good understanding of language, typically developing play skills, motor skills, thinking skills, and social skills, but has a limited spoken vocabulary for their age. These children often catch up on their own.

Some children with delayed speech may have a developmental speech and language disorder. For others, speech and language problems may arise due to other conditions.

 

What causes speech and language delays?

Primary speech and language delays are developmental disorders that directly affect language and speech. In the majority of cases these can be effectively treated by speech therapy once diagnosed.

Secondary speech and language delays occur due to other conditions, such as:

  • Hearing impairment - may be present from birth or due to multiple ear infections
  • Apraxia - a problem with control of the muscles used in speech
  • Neurological problems like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and traumatic brain injury can affect the muscles needed for speaking
  • Physical problems inside the mouth that can interfere with a toddler’s ability to speak clearly, such as cleft palate or tongue-tie
  • Learning disorders or cognitive (thinking) challenges, maybe due to Down’s syndrome or brain injury
  • Autism spectrum disorder - broad range of conditions that affect social interaction, speech and communication

Selective mutism is when a child does not speak in particular situations (e.g. at school), but speaks normally in other situations. This is a form of anxiety disorder and can be treated with counselling or behavioural therapy.

Time spent interacting with adult caregivers and playing with other children is vital for a baby or toddler’s language development. Too much screen time can limit these interactions and research has found an association between mobile media device use and speech delay in 18-month-old children.

 

When should I seek professional help for my late-talking child?

As there are many different reasons why a child may be slow to talk, it is important to seek advice from a trusted health professional if you are concerned that they are not reaching the speech and language milestones for their age. Hearing loss can sometimes be missed in very young children, but this can be easily checked with a hearing test. An assessment by a speech and language pathologist can detect speech or language delays. If your child requires treatment such as speech therapy, starting this early can give better outcomes.

 

What else can I do to help my child?

This article provides advice on ways to encourage your child’s language development at home. Doctors advise that under 2 year olds should not be using mobile media devices, except for video chatting with family or friends and screen time should be limited to one hour a day for children between 2 and 5 years old.

Children who struggle with communication can often benefit from learning sign language or using assistive speech apps, such as Fabulaa.

 

What is Fabulaa?

Fabulaa is a FREE mobile app which uses augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technology. Fabulaa is designed to help people of all ages, from children to adults, who face communication challenges.

Fabulaa is not a substitute for assessment and treatment by health professionals, but can be used as a tool alongside professional help.

The Fabulaa communication app can be used as a speech assistant by clicking on image cards, words or phrases to activate voice output. It can also convert speech to text. Fabulaa is customizable with colourful visuals and engaging features.

Fabulaa is the most affordable and accessible AAC app in the GCC and is currently available in five languages.