Late Talker Series: “My Husband was late to talk and he found it hard at school – Does it mean my child will have the same problems?”


“My Husband was late to talk and he found it hard at school – Does it mean my child will have the same problems?”;  “I really don’t want them to struggle at school like I did”.

There are many factors that influence school success and they include social skills, resilience & memory skills. However one of the biggest predictors have been shown to be oral language skills – this means having a good spoken vocabulary and the ability to express themselves and be understood by adults and peers. In fact these other skills such as social skills, confidence, resilience, self-esteem and even memory have been related to language skills. Consequently identifying and addressing late talking in the toddler years can impact on long-term academic success. This is particularly important as there is some indication that late talking can even influencing reading and writing success into adolescence1.

Research is suggesting that some children may have additional factors against them in addition to being late talkers. One study talks about “familial risk”. This refers to the increased probability of poor developmental and academic outcomes caused by late talking if an immediate or extended family member (uncle, grandparent, cousin) presented with late talking themselves or had related language issues as a child.

Father and Son Language Similiarities

Familial History of Speech and Language problems suggests early intervention may be warranted.

If family members had a history of late-talking then the risk for the late talking child to have problems persisting least to 5 years of age (Prep year) tripled. A Familial history of writing and reading difficulties especially increased the odds for a child to be a late talker and to have persistent language difficulties into school years.

Interestingly a familial risk of unintelligible speech (e.g., a parent that has speech clarity issues when younger) increased the odds for transient but not persisting language delays2.

Some research is indicating the odds for persistent language problems resulting from delayed spoken vocabulary scores in the toddler years are doubled for boys.

The probability of persisting language problems also increase if the child not only has fewer spoken words than typical children of the same age but also presents with low language understanding skills at 1.5 years of age2. This suggests that if children are not pointing to named pictures, not following 2 step commands (e.g., Give me the ball and sock) or not understanding the functions of objects (e.g., Which one can we read?) by 2-years of age; and are using fewer than 50 words/ not using 2-word sentences, then they are at more risk of having  longer term problems into the Prep year than children that have good understanding and not speaking well.

This is why Speech Pathologists will investigate how many and what words your child is saying and understanding and ask questions about family history when you attend initial consults.

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, lectured at University in the area of early child communication and literacy development & disorders; and was 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. Her passion is to provide parents, carers and educators resources to assist in early communication and literacy development. She does this via her community presentations, direct clinical speech pathology services via the clinic and skype services, development of video demonstrations and recommendations of toys, books and resources see the SpeechNet Shop.

1Rescorla, L. (2009). Age 17 language and reading outcomes in late-talking toddlers: support for a dimensional perspective on language delay. J Speech Lang Hear Res.Feb;52(1):16-30.

2Zambrana et. Al. (2011). Trajectories of language delay from 3-5: persistence, recovery and late onset. Prog Brain Res;189:239-57.

Sandra McMahon