Late talker: Why won’t my toddler speak?

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If your child is a late talker, you might have found yourself saying “my toddler is just being lazy, too stubborn and won’t talk”. You are not alone! This is an understandable thing to think and say. Especially when we know deep down our little one CAN and WILL communicate. I want to challenge this thought and explain to you what is really going for those little ones not yet talking.

I want mums & dads, family members & educators to start thinking like this: ⠀

A late talker has a deficit of developmental skill. It is not that a child chooses not to talk, they actually CAN’T talk!⠀

Late talking is a developmental difficulty, rather than a behaviour they exhibit or a choice they purposefully make. Of course, skills will vary from child to child. However, no matter the child’s abilities, we need to determine what pre-requisite skills they’re missing.


Pre-requisite skills for adequate language development:


As displayed in the image above, there are skills required for successful communication. I show this to many mums and dads so they can better understand WHY their child can’t talk. It also explains why speech clarity may not be the first priority.⠀

Before we can expect a later talker to say words, we need to work on the skills that will get them there. Here is some explanation of the items displayed in the communication triangle above:

  1. They need be socially engaged with others.
  2. The require adequate play skills & ability to imitate non-verbal actions (eg. with objects, facial expressions, gestures) are vital to enable imitation of words.
  3. They need to understand concepts/word meanings in order to use words verbally. Having a variety of reasons to communicate motivates a child to use gestures & words.
  4. Speech clarity can be consolidated and improved once they have adequate skills in the areas that come before it!

Of course, all of these areas develop in parallel for typically developing children, but when looking at late talkers, we need to focus on skill areas systematically. And remember, every child will have their own set of strengths & weaknesses.

Now there is one thing late talkers all have in common, no matter the underlying diagnoses, strengths or weaknesses.

Late talkers do not readily IMITATE words

So, addressing imitation as the core deficit for these late talkers, can result in much more progress and success

Download more information on imitation here

If your child is a late talker and you want to know whether you should wait or seek help now, check out the Online Speechie Screener!

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