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  • Lindsey O'Neill MA, CCC-SLP

Late Talkers: Don't "Wait and See"

Have you ever had the sense that your toddler may be behind in terms of their speech-language development? Maybe you have an uncle who "didn't talk until he was 4" and is now an incredibly well spoken adult. Let's just wait and see. Although I'm normally a bit of a cheerleader in my blog posts, I'm here to tell you today, PLEASE, if you have a feeling something is "off", do not wait and see.

I am always both amazed and a bit heartbroken by the young children who walk through my office doors, many of whom may have been struggling for years. How can we (speech-language pathologists) help prevent these kids from sliding through the cracks? As an SLP, I think it is my job to support, encourage, and when needed, speak the hard truth.

Today, I am going to share early childhood language development norms, based upon years of research by scientists and educators.

At my son's 2 year check up at the pediatrician's office, one of the speech-language development screening questions asked was, "Does your child use about 50 words?". This question is also present on other early childhood development screenings. However, it is important to note that these milestones are based on when 90% of all children have mastered a skill.

Did you know that researchers have found that children with typically developing language say 50 words by 18 months, 200-300 words by 24 months, and 450 words with 30 months? Wow-just look how fast expressive vocabulary skills explode during the toddler years!

This is all to say, if your child is producing only 50 words at 24 months, he or she is demonstrating skills that are behind those of typically developing peers who are using 200-300 words at this age. Also, around the age of 24 months, children begin to combine words to produce 2-word utterances (e.g. "more milk", "bye daddy"). The first three years of life are a time of rapid brain development and language acquisition. Please, hear me when I say (as gently as I can through a keyboard) don't wait and see.

How about receptive language? By the time children are 2 years old, they begin to rapidly understand new words, follow 2-step directions, and demonstrate understanding of basic opposites such as "stop" and "go", or "up" and "down". Are you noticing a seemingly large gap between your child's ability to understand and use language to communicate? This difference between the ability to understand words being used and verbally produce words to communicate can lead to increased frustration and is generally a red flag.

If you notice that your child is having difficulty in the areas of receptive or expressive language, trust your gut. Early intervention is crucial! I know that as a mother it can be difficult to imagine that your child may need a little help from someone else, but I am here to tell you that there are so many wonderful therapists willing to help you and your child.

A good therapist will work to empower you with strategies you can use to encourage speech-language learning with your child at home-long after the session with the SLP ends! This may be overwhelming information, or perhaps this is exactly what you needed to read today.

You know your child better than anyone and if you sense something is awry, well, chances are that you are right. The only way to know is to get a formal speech-language evaluation. I tell parents all the time, it doesn't hurt to get evaluated -if anything it will give you peace of mind and/or perhaps a plan of action.

I hope you have found this post informative. If you are a parent reading this, I would like to remind you that even on those days where it may not feel like it, you are making a difference in your child's life and you are doing an amazing job at possibly the most important job ever-parenting! (Ok, I couldn't make it through a blog post without making a "cheerleader"-esque statement-but it's true!!)

If you are in Ohio and have concerns regarding your child's speech-language skills, Help Me Grow, is a wonderful state-funded program for children ages birth-3 years of age.

If you are interested in private therapy, feel free to contact me to set up a free consultation to discuss your child's needs.

Expressive Vocabulary Norms: Mize, L. (2014). Number of Words in a Child’s Vocabulary. Retrieved from on 1/08/2019

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