Late Blooming or Language Problem?

Children learn to talk at different times. How do you know if your child is a late talker or has a language problem? Read the tips below and talk to a speech-language pathologist if you have concerns.

Parents Are Smart

You know your child. You understand what he means when he points to the door. You listen to her talk and watch her play. You remember what your older children did and said at the same age. It is normal to compare your child to other children. It is also normal to worry if you think your child is not keeping up.

You may ask other parents, relatives, or your doctor how they think your child talks. You may get answers like, “My son was slow, too. Now he won't shut up,” or “Don't worry; she'll outgrow it.” Your doctor might tell you not to worry until your child is closer to school age. And they might be right.

But what if they aren’t? You may think things like I'd feel guilty waiting only to find out that I should have done something sooner. How will I know for sure what to do?

What to Expect

You won’t know for sure. All children go through the same stages as their speech and language develops. However, it is hard to know exactly when your child will get to each stage. There is a range of what is normal, and it can vary a lot. Your child’s speech and language development depends on:

  • Her natural ability to learn language.
  • Other skills that he is learning at the same time.
  • How much talking she hears during the day.
  • How people respond to what he says or does.

This makes it hard to say for sure where your child’s speech and language development will be in 3 months or 1 year.

Risk Factors

Is your child between 18 and 30 months old and not talking as well as you think he should? Some factors that may put your child at risk for language problems include:

  • Understanding language. A child usually understands what she hears before she uses words. This is receptive language. Your child may be able to point to objects when you name them and follow simple directions. If your child seems to understand well for her age, she is more likely to catch up with her language. If you think she does not understand what others say, she may have a language delay.
  • Using gestures. Your child may use gestures to communicate, especially before he can say many words. Gestures include pointing, waving “hi” or “bye,” and putting his arms up so you will pick him up. The more gestures your child uses, the more likely it is that he will catch up to other children his age. Your child may not learn language as well if he does not use many gestures.
  • Learning new words. Your child may be slower to talk, but she should still try to use new words each month. She may start putting some words together or use words to ask questions. If your child does this, she is more likely to catch up and not have a delay. Your child may have a language problem if you do not hear new words often.

Having a problem with anything on this list does not mean that your child has a language delay. However, it puts him more at risk. You may want to have your child tested to make sure his speech and language is where it should be.

What Should You Do?

You know your child best. You don’t have to wait and see if you think there might be a problem. And you don’t have to guess if your child will catch up. You can have your child seen by a speech-language pathologist, or SLP. The SLP will talk to you about your concerns and test how well your child understands, speaks, and uses gestures.

The SLP may give you ideas about how to help your child talk. The SLP may suggest that you come back again if you are still worried in a few months. If your child shows signs of a problem, the SLP may suggest that you talk to an early intervention program. This program can work with you to find ways to help your child communicate better. They can also help if you have any other concerns about your child’s development.

Trust your instincts. Find out if your child is a late bloomer or has a language delay. Help is available.

See ASHA information for professionals on the Practice Portal’s Late Language Emergence page.

To find a speech-language pathologist near you, visit ProFind.