When should I become concerned about my child’s late talking?

Many children begin using first words by about one year of age. But many don’t start until 18 months or even later. The important thing is to seek answers right away whenever you think something may be amiss. The late talking may be a passing stage, or it may be a symptom of language disorder, speech disorder, more general slowed learning, or autism.

There are numerous sources of developmental timetables and milestones charts for language and development on the internet. If you are on this website, it is likely you have already been seeking information about late talking and have encountered the tidal wave of information “out there” to help parents and families. It can be overwhelming. Still, it is helpful to know what to expect generally. The American Speech and Hearing Association’s (ASHA) guidelines for early identification for speech, language, and hearing disorders. ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for speech language pathologists and audiologists. ASHA’s parent resources are sound and presented in a clear, parent-friendly manner. A checklist or well-presented milestones cannot answer your questions or concerns definitively. As a parent, you will require more information, mainly information that bears your individual child in mind.

As a parent, you know your child best. If you find yourself wondering if there could be a potential problem with the way your child speaks, plays, or acts, it is worth pursuing now. Bottom line: If you have concerns or are wondering if you should be concerned, you should seek assistance. Please don’t let fear stop you. You have power in the way things move forward. Speak with your pediatrician and share your thoughts or concerns and begin to educate yourself. (Read FAQ “What are the next steps if I am concerned about my child’s talking, playing, hearing, or the way they act at times?”)

What are the next steps if I am concerned about my child’s talking, playing, hearing, or way they may act at times?

There are a few next steps. Don’t let fear stop you. Speak to your pediatrician. Share your thoughts and concerns, specifically. If you feel you need more time to communicate effectively, arrange for that time. This is where the relationship you have with the professionals and others dedicated to helping you and your child matter. It emphasizes the value of taking the time to choose “helpers” with whom you have a positive and trusting relationship. Your physician has experience with your child, albeit in a clinical setting.

Begin educating yourself. There are many sources and ways to go about this. This site, sponsored through The Foundation for Parents of Late Talking Children (aka Late Talkers Foundation), is a great place to begin learning and keep learning. There are other excellent sources of information. The point is to begin to learn sound information about talking.

Most importantly, believe in your ability and knowledge where your child is concerned. Don’t let fear stop you. There are wonderful specialists who have dedicated their education to child development and helping. Should it turn out that your child needs some support, you will be looking for these helpers. You want to be a critical consumer. Find and choose those specialists who recognize your vital role, accept your input, value your knowledge of your child, and embrace you as a crucial member of the team. These wonderful helpers are out there. Do not settle for anything less. You have the capacity to helm the way forward. Every day, even amidst concern or worry, affirm as often as you need to that the very best thing for your child is you.

My child is very young. I am worried that if I seek assistance now, specialists will be hasty. I am concerned that seeking help early will prematurely allow my child to be labeled as disordered and begin down a path for which I have little influence and am unsure. How do I proceed?

You are in charge of the process; never give up that control. Seek answers immediately when you have concerns. But do so in the firm knowledge that you should not accept or feel pressured to accept an inaccurate label.

Proceed from a place of knowledge and a clear picture of what you need and want for your child, but do proceed. First off, your feelings are valid. There are instances where persons can be hasty. Happily, there are many more specialists who are there to assist and help and not be hasty. You have power. It is a matter of communication and being clear on what you are looking for in the very beginning.

Speak with your pediatrician. Let them know your concerns and be specific. Do what you need to allow effective and thorough communication with your pediatrician. This may entail arranging a visit just to speak with them about your concerns. Perhaps writing down your concerns and questions is effective for you. However, you most effectively communicate, do that. Your pediatrician will appreciate the specific input.

Let them know:

  • Your child is young
  • You feel there are extenuating circumstances.
  • For now, you are pursuing more information on how you can help your child with talking.
  • You are concerned that seeking assistance now, when you have only mild concerns, may result in premature labels or diagnoses that could be detrimental to your child and that you want to avoid that.
  • You are not interested in diagnoses but, instead, how to help your child.
  • You would like to know more about how to encourage talking in your child; and that your primary interest is not establishing a diagnosis.
  • Your concerns are valid and worthwhile to communicate.

If your pediatrician suggests a referral, ask about the process, and if that process meets your concerns. Should the referral be made, speak with the specialist to whom you have been referred prior to them seeing your child. Communicate to them as well what you are hoping to gain and what your concerns are. The specialist should address your concerns. Your parent-wisdom will take it from here. You will get a sense of reassurance and confidence or not. If you do not, you will need a different referral. The likelihood is you will find skilled and compassionate support. You do need to take the initiative, communicate, reach out to referrals before your appointments, and be assured that everyone is clear and on the same page. The fruits of your efforts will be worthwhile.

Never be afraid to discontinue services you do not agree with or make you feel ill at ease (e.g., if you feel your child is being maltreated or subjected to stressful procedures) and never be afraid to refuse to accept labels for which you do not agree. Parents rightfully should protect the rights of their children.


What does late talking look like in Middle or High School?

If the late talking was simply a passing stage in early childhood, you may have difficulty even recalling that your child was late talking. If the late talking was a symptom of a Language Disorder, your child will be doing quite well in most areas, but may experience some struggle with reading comprehension or may have other academic learning challenges. If the late talking was a symptom of autism or generally slow learning, your child will have grown and progressed in many ways (and brought you lots of happy, joyful memories) and will continue to advance, but will still show signs of struggling to communicate and learning at the same pace as other children in Middle and High School.

Even if your child’s late talking is a passing stage, their learning style, that is, learning by doing rather than by listening and having an analytical approach to learning, will likely still be noticeable in Middle and High School.

Although we do try to look into the future when we first meet late talking children and their families, we always focus on today and the near future. Though admittedly challenging, we strive not to let worry overwhelm all the wonderful moments with your child that are happening today and tomorrow.

How Do I register?

For more information on how to register, see our useful guide and video here.