Late Talker Series: What is a late talker?

"He's already two years old........I just want him to say Mummy"

Speech Therapist      Dr Sandra McMahon PhD

This is a very common wish I hear parents say when they first attend an initial Speech Therapy consult of a child they feel are not talking as much as their peers of the same age. The general consensus is that “late talkers” are young children (between 18 & 30 months of age) that do not meet the talking milestones considered typical for development -but their understanding seems fine.  Typical development of play skills, motor skills, thinking skills, and social skills are also often in place, but they are just using a limited number of spoken words for his or her age.

"What are Typical Spoken Word Milestones?"

Speech Therapist      Dr Sandra McMahon PhD

Parents often feel guilty when they compare their child’s speech development to other children at playgroups or in the park…. aren’t we always told not to compare our child with others.  Don’t we always hear “All children develop at their own pace”. Sometimes these thoughts are used when looking for an explanation for a child’s delayed talking development. While children do develop at their own pace to some extent, we know that there are certain milestones which should be reached by a specific age. When they are not reached, this becomes cause for concern with potential long-term implications for school readiness and early social skill development.  

Spoken Word Milestones

The following milestones can help you determine if your child’s Spoken Vocabulary is appropriate for his or her age. If your child has not yet reached these milestones, parents are advised to seek support –  such as obtaining advise and ideas from a speech-language pathologist. Remember the number of Spoken Words shown below are the lowest that are expected for the ages shown………. however typically children of these ages are saying 2 to 3 times the number of words listed:

18 month olds

·         18 month olds should use least 20 words, including different types of words, such as “thing words” (“baby”, “ball), action words (“eat”, “go”), place words (“up”, “down”), describing words (“hot”, “sleepy”), and social words (“hi”, “bye”).

Find Out How Many Words

YOUR Child Uses Today!

With our online interactive checklist 

24 month olds

·         24 month olds should use at least 100 words and combine 2 words together. These word combinations should be generated by the child, and not be combinations that are “memorized bites” of language, such as “thank you”, “bye bye”, “all gone”, or “What’s that?”. By 2 years of age talking should contain true word combinations such as “Daddy gone”, “eat banana”, or “yukky hands”. The speech may not always be clear at this age but the word attempts are present and understood by parents and unfamiliar people.

Parents that bring their children in to Speech Therapy at 3 or 31/2 years of age (with now major delays) often say they wished they had listened to their own gut feelings and seeked help at 18-24 months.

They often say that they “knew even then that his speech was a bit slow”. Many of these parents, whose child seems to be developing normally in every other way but the number of spoken words used, say that they were told not to worry by the people around them. Common things that parents hear that slow their momentum to seek information or advise from a speech pathologists include:  that someone in the family “didn’t talk until they were 3” or that “boys talk late”. Other parents say that their doctors, friends or in-laws all told them to wait until their child was at least two before seeking help; that “18 months is too early to worry” and to “wait and see”.



* Our Online eProgram FOCUS on Toddler Talk!

​* Brisbane Individual & Group Therapy at Speechnet

​* Skype / Facetime     Speech Therapy

​* Home / School / Childcare / Educational Centre Visits 



How many times have we heard that Einstein was late to talk? BUT……We don’t hear about all the other late talkers that “could have been like an Einstein but didn’t meet their full potential”.

This collision of their “gut feeling telling them to seek advice” and people surrounding them to “wait & see” can be a very confusing situation for parents who only want the best for their children.

Research shows that up to one-third of late talkers with no other developmental concerns do infact “catch-up” in the preschool years. However, currently confident determination of which toddlers will catch-up and which ones won’t, is virtually impossible. Getting advice and listening to your gut feelings if you think your child is looking like a “late talker” may be a better plan than hoping your child will fall into the one-third catch up group. The odds are not great without direction from a professional that knows how to work with toddlers to optimise development.

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

Sandra McMahon Speech Patholgoist

About the author

Dr Sandra McMahon, Speech Pathologist, PhD is clinical and research paediatric speech pathologists that has worked as the Director of Speech Pathology at a major metropolitan Children’s Hospital, lectures at University in the area of early child communication and literacy development & disorders and a consultant to Kindergartens and Child Care Centres. Dr McMahon is currently the Founder, Director and Senior Speech Pathologist of the multi-disciplinary SpeechNet Speech Pathology & Learning Centre. Dr McMahon is frequently invited to present to parent groups, educational facilities, Speech Pathology Clinical Development events & conferences. She is certified practising member of the Australian Speech Pathology Association.



toddler Talk







* Our Online eProgram FOCUS on Toddler Talk!

​* Brisbane Individual & Group Therapy at Speechnet

​* Skype / Facetime                   Speech Therapy

​* Home / School / Childcare / Educational Centre Visits 


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