If you answered yes to the question “Are you ignoring your toddler’s delayed speech*?” please keep reading.
You may have heard comments such as: “don’t worry he will talk when he is ready” or “it’s ok, Einstein didn’t talk until he was four” and “she is your youngest child so her siblings are talking for her” from friends, family members and even your family physician.
You’ve probably even heard “she’s just a late talker, she will catch up”.
If you have had concerns regarding your toddler’s language development and received one of these answers from a well meaning person, you are not alone.
However, I urge you to take this advice with a grain of salt.
Unfortunately most doctors are not required to have specific training in the area of language development, let alone your friends and family members.
Here are some red flags that can help you determine if your toddler’s speech truly is delayed.
Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Delayed Speech in Toddlers
It’s true that all children will eventually learn to talk whether it be at 12 months or 3 years.
The exception to this rule is if your child has a known hearing problem, genetic disorder or other developmental disorder that can impact speech and language development.
I often see articles in the media such as Late Talking Toddlers Likely to be Fine by Age 5 that give parents a false sense of hope.
The study that is discussed in the above article only focuses on the emotional and behavioral outcomes of these children.
This study was led by Andrew Whitehouse, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia.
He, however, did not look at language outcomes so one cannot make the assumption that these children were fine with regards to their language development (both in understanding of language and expression).
There is nothing wrong with this study, it is the headlines the media are using that are misleading.
In the speech and language community, it is widely known that approximately 70-80% of toddlers with a language delay will outgrow this delay on their own even if that child did not receive any type of intervention.¹
One thing to note is that the language delay here refers to an expressive delay only.
This means that the child is able to understand but has difficulty speaking (or expressing themselves verbally).
Now, this leaves about 20-30% of children.
What happens to these children?
20-30% of Toddlers with Delayed Speech Will Not Catch Up To Their Peers²
To me, this number is quite high.
It is under 50% but is that a risk you want to take with your child?
Children who are not using more than a handful of words by their second birthday are at risk.
Research shows that when a child’s language skills are not where they should be, they will have lasting difficulties in areas of expressive language and reading and writing once they enter school.
Parents are often told to simply “wait and see” with regards to their child’s language development.
However, early language intervention can make a world of difference.
More and more research is showing that the earlier a child receives language intervention the better the outcomes will be.³
The younger the child is also plays a role in the length of therapy that may be needed.
If you wait until your child is over 3, for example, she will need a lot more therapy in order to teach all of the things a 3 year old should know.
But, if therapy were started at the age of 2 there is a good chance that she would be caught up by the age of 3.
My Toddler’s Speech Is Delayed, What Should I Do?
Personally, I would recommend you seek out a registered Speech-Language Pathologist in your area (private or government funded) and have your child assessed.
The speech pathologist will be able to tell you whether or not your child would benefit from therapy sessions.
Often, in the case of young children, the speech pathologist will set up a home program for you so that you can work with your child at home.
It really depends on your child and the severity of the delay.
I know many parents take on the “wait and see” approach because they feel that if they admit that their child needs language intervention, they must have somehow failed as parents.
This could not be further from the truth.
Some children simply need more help than others. We all have strengths and weaknesses. The same goes for children.
You will be a better parent by having your child assessed sooner rather than later.
You could continue waiting and waiting only to be told that your child is now struggling in school.
If only he would have received speech therapy as a toddler none of this might be happening.
I am not trying to scare you, but I am frustrated with the headlines that parents see and the advice they are given by people with no background in language development.
Are You Ignoring Your Toddler’s Delayed Speech?
In the end, the choice to ignore the delay and “wait and see” is yours!
Please let me know if you have any questions regarding this topic.
And be sure to check out my number one recommended toy for a child with a speech and language delay!
Notes & Resources
*speech in this article refers to language production, not individual speech sounds
¹ Ellis EM, Thal DJ. (2008) Early language delay and risk for language impairment. Perspect Lang Learn Ed., 15(3): 93-100.
² Sharma M., Purdy, S.C. & Kelly, A.S. (2009). Comorbidity of auditory processing, language, and reading disorders. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 52(3),706-22.
³ Dale, P., Price, T., Bishop, D., & Plomin, R. (2003). Outcomes of early language delay: I. Predicting persistent and transient language difficulties at 3 and 4 years. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 544-560