Toddler speech delay: Where do I start?


Toddler speech delay parent teaching toddler to talk

Toddler speech delay is a very common concern for parents of toddlers. It can be very overwhelming and anxiety-provoking when you see other toddlers’ speak better than your child.

Speech delay versus language delay: using the right terminology

Before I go on, I want to clarify the terms speech delay and language delay. Working as a speech pathologist over the past decade, parents typically say that they’re concerned about their toddler having a speech delay. Now the term “speech” technically refers to the articulation of speech sounds and the clarity of their talking.
More often than not, parents are referring to their toddler’s limited expressive vocabulary and ‘talking’. So this is more accurately classified as a toddler language delay, not a toddler speech delay.

As such, I always begin by clarifying the parents’ main concern – Is it their child’s clarity of speech, OR the number of words they use to communicate (regardless of their clarity of speech)?

Late talkers: Toddler language delay

A ‘late talker’ is defined as a child who is under 18-30 months of age, has fewer than 50 expressive words, and no two-word combinations by 24 months – with otherwise typical development and no other diagnosed disabilities or cognitive/motor delays.

The good news is, that 70-80% of “late talkers” will catch up with their peers by the time they start full-time schooling. This means that many toddlers who are “late talkers” don’t necessarily need direct or intense intervention.

However, there will still be 20-30% of late talkers who will not ‘grow out’ of it and will continue to have language difficulties. When ‘late talking’ is first identified, it is difficult to distinguish and predict those children who will ‘catch up’ and those that will have an ongoing language delay/disorder.

Plus, late talkers that DO catch up with their peers, can end up with weaknesses in areas including:

  • Language – Vocabulary, grammar, telling and understanding stories, writing and listening comprehension.
  • Social skills
  • Executive functioning (planning, organising, attention etc).
  • Auditory processing of verbal language/speech, which can interfere with language and literacy attainment.

My toddler is a late talker: What do I do?

If your child has a language delay (aka ‘speech delay’), the best thing you can do is to incorporate language learning and explicit teaching at home, within your everyday routine. Some 5-10 minute focus activities every second day wouldn’t hurt either!

As mentioned above, I don’t think you necessarily need to seek direct intervention immediately. However, I do believe that many parents need some type of support, so they know where to start and what to focus on!

Toddler speech delay - like learning to ride a bike
Learning to talk is like learning to ride a bike. We cannot skip straight to the end goal!

Firstly, you need to understand your child “stage of communication“. This means, understanding what your child CAN do now, so you know what they should work on next.

Think of learning how to ride a bicycle. You don’t just start with a two-wheeler. Instead, you gradually build-up to the two-wheeler in incremental steps. This is the same for language learning, especially for toddlers who have a language delay (late talkers).

The communication stages I use when working with parents and their children are:

  • The Engager
  • The Single word user
  • The Phrase user

Each stage has specific behavioural indicators and expected next steps and goals.

Once you know your child’s “stage of communication” you then know exactly what you need to focus on at home.

Get more help: Download the Speechie Parent Playbook!

Help your child talk home program

The Speechie Parent Playbooks will assist you to develop your child’s talking at home by providing you with easy and digestible activities and strategies that you can incorporate into your everyday routine and playtime – ALL organised into the 3 communication stages!

Click here to download it now!

Children who show risk factors for long-term language delay:

Online Speechie - Helping parents teach their child to talk

Research has indicated that several risk factors indicate that a child is more likely to have continuing language delay.

I will share these on my Instagram stories this week, so make sure to follow me over at @onlinespeechie.

If you’re concerned about your toddler having a language/speech delay, and you want to know whether you just need to:

  • Work on specific goals at home
  • You need seek formal intervention now

Then check out the Online Speech Screener and get that peace of mind!


Michelle, R. E., & Ellis, W. S. (2008). Language Outcomes of Late Talking Toddlers at Preschool and Beyond. 15(3), 119–126.

Stephen, A. M. A. R. G. M. D. P. R. R. L. R. M. A. T. J. B. Z. Late Language Emergence. Retrieved 14/07/2021 from


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