How to Deal With Late-Talking Children

How to Deal With Late-Talking Children

Kids who have DLD, like children diagnosed with autism, struggle with social communication / Photo by Africa Studio via Shutterstock


The first three years of a child’s life are supposedly an amazing time of development. In reality, many kids fall behind in the development milestones, like speaking or show signs of a disorder requiring medical attention.

In his book, “Late-Talking Children,” Thomas Sowell expressed that many parents find it baffling and frustrating when their kids reach their second, third, or even fourth birthdays without really talking. Lots of factors may be tied in with kids showing delayed or arrested development, particularly in speech.


Weighing in on the problem

What are the key factors that cause developmental delay, or falling behind in terms of gross or fine motor, language, cognitive, or social skills in kids? Kids who manifest developmental delays may be brought to a developmental or behavioral pediatrician or even a pediatric neurologist to be diagnosed. Multiple evaluations are crucial.

Barring inherited biological disorders, some of the reasons cited by experts on why children talk late include mental retardation (or the child could be a genius or lies somewhere in between retarded and genius). This was pointed out by Sowell, a fellow of the Hoover Institute.

Confounding the situation of having late-talking kids are people around who are quick to put labels on the affected children. Some professionals and pseudo-professionals are quick to put labels on parents as well, referring to them as being either "in denial" or indifferent.

About 20 to 30 percent of late-talking kids in the toddler stage who keep having difficulties are eventually diagnosed with developmental language disorder (DLD) or other neurodevelopmental disorders, a website specializing in developmental language disorder (DLD) cited.


Differentiating DLD from autism

Kids who have DLD, like children diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum, struggle with social communication. Kids diagnosed with autism, though, often have other serious medical challenges, including digestive issues, seizures, and sleep troubles.

Things can be more than what they seem. DLD can occur by itself or it can occur along with other disorders—emotional problems, ADHD, dyslexia, and autism.

In his book, “Late Talking Children - A Symptom or a Stage,” children's speech expert Stephen Camarata cited that late talking may be a sign of things to come or a symptom of later impairments. In many cases, it is simply a stage without long-term complications. More often than not, it is a “harbinger of a child’s learning style.”

Camarata, a professor in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences of Vanderbilt School of Medicine, shared in the book that he has encountered many different types of children who started talking late, along with the many distressed parents who stressed over that fact.

DLD can occur by itself or it can occur along with other disorders—emotional problems, ADHD, dyslexia, and autism / Photo by Lordn via Shutterstock


No to labeling

It is quite understandable why well-meaning family members become worried when their kin barely utters more than a few isolated phrases while other kids of the same age as the child are engaging in back-and-forth conversations. The importance of getting a reliable professional diagnosis is crucial. After all, proper intervention may translate to dramatic progress. Conversely, wrong labeling can have negative effects.

In the US, there is what is known as the Language Development Survey (LDS). It is a vocabulary checklist devised as a screening tool for identifying language delay in two-year-old kids. It was published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. There are also lots of other preschool screening for developmental difficulties, some incorporating parent-report assessments, with the end view of improving the rate of early identification of children’s language and behavioral difficulties.

Given that a child falls behind in developmental milestones, particularly language development, what can parents do?

KidsHealth, a website of a nonprofit children’s health organization in the US, cited that a physician or medical specialist needs to be consulted if the late-talking child displays the following at certain stages:

By 12 months – still not making use of gestures like waving goodbye

By 18 months – still not into vocalization and opting to use gestures to communicate

By 18 months – encountering difficulty imitating sounds and in comprehending simple verbal requests

By 2 years – not producing words or phrases  spontaneously; can only imitate some actions or speech; uttering certain sounds or words repeatedly and not yet verbally communicating immediate needs; still unable to follow simple directions

By 4 years old, a child should be mostly understood, even by people who don't know the child.

If you happen to be a well-meaning relative seeking resources that can be of help to the late-talking child, it may also be useful to keep in mind some tips offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

For starters, avoid heaping blame on the parents. The tendency of most people is to pinpoint the shortcomings of parents when their kids show speech and language disorders or other delays. It is easy to say a parent should have done something differently, without really knowing much about the issue.

Second, avoid labeling or giving your own diagnosis of what the child is going through. Comparing siblings will also not be helpful at all.  

Third, explore forms of help or treatment that need not be costly. Across the world, some states offer early intervention program covered in part or full by insurance. It is heartening to note that there are options for families.