Is Your Child a "Late Talker" or Do They Need Speech Therapy?


Have you ever wondered if your child needs speech therapy?  If you have wondered this, has someone you know told you that your child was probably fine or a “late talker”? We hear it time and time again, “ My brother didn’t talk until he was three, and he’s just fine now.” or “Boys talk later than girls, he’s probably just a “late talker.”  This notion of the “late talker” and people writing off a mother’s concerns about their child’s development are becoming more and more prevalent. Many of our clients say that they had a gut feeling that their child was behind, but a well meaning grandparent of friend assured them that their child would be fine or was simply just a “late talker”. We’d like to address this issue and help put the “late talker” theory to rest.



We have developmental norms for a reason:

Child development is an area that we are continuously learning about.  Each child is unique and children at the exact same age can display very different skills and abilities.  Although development can vary, there is a set of norms that is considered typical or age appropriate. We do not have to strictly adhere to a list of child development norms; however, it does give us a good idea what skills our children should be working towards.  Speech is no different from any other area of development. There are skills that children should acquire at certain ages. For example, most children will be able to use approximately 50 words by age 2. This is a recommendation. If your child is using 40 words by 2 but learning new words pretty regularly, you probably don’t have a reason to be worried.  If your child is using 3 words by age 2, then you may need to consider an evaluation with a speech pathologist. These norms give us a look into typical speech development and can alert us when something is off.


There are always exceptions to the rule:

“My cousin didn’t talk until he was 4 and he’s a neurosurgeon now.”  We have heard a variety of these types of stories. There are the so called “late-talkers”, the kids who started talking later than usual, but didn’t require speech therapy services.  I’m sure there are children who started speaking later and didn’t need speech therapy, but there is no way to determine which children will be “late talkers” and which children will have a speech disorder.  It would be wonderful if we had a crystal ball that could determine which children will need speech therapy and which would just talk later, but since that isn’t possible we have to treat all children the same.  It’s better to treat a child who may have ended up developing speech and language skills on their own than it is to not treat a child with a speech or language disorder. We often hear parents who are upset with themselves that they didn’t seek out services sooner because they were just assuming their child was a late talker.   Your neighbor’s daughter may have waited until 4 to talk and ended speaking age appropriately, but that is the exception to the rule. Many “late talkers” end up with speech and language delays that do require speech therapy. We recommend to always err on the side of caution and get an evaluation if you are concerned.



An evaluation can only help

I know that many parents are hesitant to start therapy or even get an evaluation when their children are young.  They don’t want to be jump the gun so soon, but since working in early intervention I have learned there isn’t such a thing as too soon.  The sooner the better as far as child development is concerned. If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, or any area of development, it never hurts to begin with an evaluation. You may get an evaluation and find out that your child’s speech is age appropriate or slightly delayed, but not enough to warrant therapy.  You will still get a full picture of your child’s skills as well as some tips and techniques that can help you continue to facilitate a language rich environment. If an evaluation does show your child has a delay, they can begin receiving speech therapy services right away. There is no con to pursuing an evaluation. You will receive valuable information and peace of mind either way.



Late talkers are often frustrated

Let’s say you do have a child who is a “late talker” and ends up speaking at an age appropriate level at age 3.  Although they ended up eventually speaking, that’s several years of ineffective communication during the toddlerhood years. This is certainly going to result in frustration for both the child and his caregivers between ages 1-3. Toddlers and preschoolers can be frustrated easily even with the most advanced speech and language development because they are figuring out the world in which they live.  If you add on a speech delay to an already frustrating time, that is going to make your child even more exasperated. Why go through such a difficult and frustrating time for everyone waiting on your child to talk, when you can get help from a professional and make everyone’s lives easier? As humans, it is in our nature to communicate. This is no different for young children. They want to be able to communicate their thoughts and ideas just like the rest of us. Speech therapy can really lessen the frustration for children and their families as they are given the tools to communicate effectively.



Things to look for

If you think your child may be a “late talker”, look for these signs to see if an evaluation may be warranted.

  • Is your child making progress?  Some children may be slower to develop speech, but still make continuous progress.  If your child appears stagnant in their development, seek out an evaluation by a speech language pathologist.

  • Is your child frustrated by not being able to effectively communicate with you?  Are you frustrated by not being able to understand your child? If you answered yes to either one of those questions on a regular basis, seek out an evaluation.  

  • Does your child talk, but you have difficulty understanding most of what they are saying?  Do they have difficulty imitating speech sounds even with cues and when watching your mouth? If you answered yes to these questions, It is recommended they get an evaluation.

  • Is your child motivated to communicate?  If you don’t feel your child is making an effort to communicate with you or those around them, get an evaluation.  

  • Do your child’s speech and language skills meet the developmental norms for their age?  If they seem off from what is typical, consider an evaluation.


I hope this information is helpful and clears up why speech therapists often recommend getting an evaluation instead of waiting to see if your child will eventually talk.  Since there is no way to tell which children will end up having a speech delay and need therapy, it is best to be proactive. We hear so many parents express regret in waiting to start speech therapy and hope that these tips can help your determine if a speech evaluation is warranted.