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Speech and language milestones

Late talkers




Some children start to talk later than others. It is sometimes very difficult to determine whether the child is what we call a ‘late talker’ who will grow out of the problem without any intervention whatsoever,  or if the child's abilities to learn language are impaired. The difficulty is that there is very little difference sometimes between the two.  What we know, from published studies, is that a good number of children who are late talkers experience later problems at school, particularly with subjects that require language (e.g. comprehensions and story maths).


The Hanen Center in Canada defines a late talker:

A  “Late Talker” is a toddler (between 18-30 months) who has good understanding of language, typically developing play skills, motor skills, thinking skills, and social skills, but has a limited spoken vocabulary for his or her age. The difficulty late talking children have is specifically with spoken or expressive language.  This group of children can be very puzzling because they have all of the building blocks for spoken language, yet they don’t talk or talk very little. Researchers have yet to agree upon an explanation for this specific delay. They have determined, though, that Late Talkers are more likely to have a family history of early language delay, to be male, and to have been born at less than 85% of their optimal birth weight or at less than 37 weeks gestation . It has also been determined that approximately 13% of two year olds are late talkers."



How does one determine if a child is a late talker? The best way is to compare the child to the 'typically developing child'. We have excellent data on what children should be able to say and understand as they develop and we use this information to guide us.


At 9- 12 months, a baby should definitely be able to do the following:


  • Know that if something happens, there might be a reaction – eg turn on the light switch, then the light comes on


  • Look at something that you look at; focus his or her attention on the same thing that you are looking at eg pictures in a book or something that you point to.


  • Babble quite a bit, and their sounds should sound like the sounds of the language that you speak. You should hear b, p, m, k, g and vowels as well as yells, growls, shrieks, strawberries and other baby noises.


  • The baby should start to point at things and use some very, very basic gestures that accompany vocalisations.

At 18-months, your baby should have learned the following:


  • At least 20 words and a variety of word types like:

Nouns: dog, cat, bottle, door etc.;

Verbs: go, come, push etc

Prepositions: In, out etc.

Adjectives: hot, cold, soft etc.

Social greeting: hello, bye-bye

People’s names:  Mommy, Dad, brother’s/sisters names, granny, caregiver


  • Understand basic instructions that are given on a regular basis:


Come here

Put your arms up (when getting g dressed)

Give me that

By 24 months, your toddler should have learned the following:


  • Follow all basic instruction: Come here; put on your shoes; bring your dolly; sit on the chair

  • Use expressions such as bye-bye; all gone; no more; up please; oh no; opsie daisy

  • Know and use at least 100 words and a variety of word types such as the following (which words they learn depends on the context in which they grow up mommies who bake with their children will teach them words like bake and cook; doctor’s sons know about hospitals and stethoscopes whereas plumbers’ children know about pipes and vans).

       Action words: go, come, sit, stand, run, mix, cook, stick, draw

       Descriptive words: big, hot, cold, cross, shiny

       Possessives: mine, Mommy’s, his

       Prepositions: up, down, in , out, behind, next to


  • They should start to combine the words

        More biscuits

        My milk

        Doggie’s ball

        Uppie please


If your child's talking is late, consider consulting a speech therapist. Many children are not seen early enough because people do not know that speech therapists can work with children who are very young - from under a year - and that one should not have to wait at all if one is concerned. In addition, moms often do not consult speech therapists because they are given advice by professionals , friends or family members to wait.  Please, do not wait! The earlier we can intervene, the better the outcomes. We have research that has been conducted for over 30 years on the benefits of early intervention.


Sometime we see children who seem to be delayed in their speech and language development but who do not have any condition that we can identify that would put them at risk of learning to speak. These children are the "late talkers". 


Late talkers are not children who live with other problems such as cerebral palsy, generalised learning problems, a hearing impairment, a cleft palate, a genetic syndrome, and so on.  We have sufficient evidence that these children are highly likely to have speech-language impairments that become evident early in life (under 2 years of age), and that they are likely to remain with lifelong impairments.  They may talk late, but we don't think of them as 'late talkers'. Late talkers have no associated impairments and  almost nothing in the case history that may lead to a communication impairment.




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