Late Talker Series: “Making Friends” and coping with “bullying” such as biting can be hard when you are a late talker.  


Talking skills are essential to interacting with peers. Children that are early talkers not only develop strong language abilities, they find initiating play & interacting with other children more successful. Since early talkers get more practise interacting with adults and peers earlier, they build social confidence and self-esteem (a really important aspect from Prep right up to high school).

But up to 10% of children are presenting as late talkers in the toddler years impacting on longer term social skills. A parent recently said

Late talking can impact on Social Skill Development

Late talking can impact on Social Skill Development recently commented to me how:

it breaks her heart when her little late talker tries to start “talking” to other toddlers and the toddlers just walk away as the peers don’t even realise she is trying to say something to them.

All parents want their child to build early friendships and it is truly troubling for a parent when their child is “rejected” by their peers.  Why worry about socials at such an early age?  

Typically children are saying their first words at around 10-12 months and by 24 months they typically are saying up to 200 words and using small sentences. They are already using their words to ask for things (my block), ask for actions (let’s go), rejecting actions/things (no bite!), starting an interactions with greetings (Hi Lucas) and so on.

What does this mean for Late Talkers?

Late talking means children cannot get their early messages across to others. There is some research showing that if children are still trying to build their spoken vocabularies between 24 and 36 months they are loosing opportunities to “practise” using words for social interactions. The early talkers have a “head start” because they can use these early toddler years to work out how their spoken words can change people’s behaviours and alter the outcomes of social interactions  –  not still trying to just build  bigger spoken vocabularies.

So what are 4 key things you can do if you have a late talker that is finding it hard to interact with others?

  1. Observe what “vocalisations” your child is actually using when interacting with other children

This is probably one of the key things you can do however it can be challenging to “really” sit back and observe how your child interacts  – without offering advice or helping out. Often parents will “interpret” and “rescue” their late talker so as to smooth social interactions over. No one wants to see their child struggle but waiting briefly to see what your child does to try to “talk” to others will give you invaluable insight as to how to help them. This brief pause while you observe the interactions can build the child’s social confidence as they may be more likely to “try” to get their message across themselves; and not just rely on an adult to help them out.

  1. Build on their “current communication efforts”

Children love to see adults happy with their actions and will enjoy social interactions more when their “needs” are met during the play (e.g., they get a turn of a fun toy, share a giggle). Point out what worked for them and “model” what they could have said or done during a play interaction. If they are currently only using gestures to try to get what they want (e.g., pointing, miming) then say a key single word they can copy to help get their message across.. SO…. reinforce their tries and add some more (e.g., “Wow! You pointed to the ball, he knew you wanted the ball because you pointed to the ball – you can say it too – BALL, BALL”).

  1. Role play with toys

Using puppets or figures role play social interactions that are both positive and potentially tricky. Pretend one of the figure grabs a toy off another one. You can then model (at the level your child is at) – (gestures & vocalisations only) shake your head and say “Uh OH?”; (saying words) –  “mine” or “me” or “no-no…. me”) (saying sentences) –  “my turn”, “give back”

  1. Seek Early Intervention for Late Talking

Late talking refers to children saying less than 20 words at 18 months or less than 50 words AND not saying 2-word sentences at 24 months. There are many underlying factors influencing the rate of new spoken words in late talking children.  Talking to a Speech Pathologists, attending play groups such as Talking First Word Groups or seeking ideas from online training programmes or resources   can help you boost spoken vocabulary during play and book reading times  before potential social difficulties arise .  By assisting children to build talking skills will  in turn help your child’s social skill development.

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 a 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.



Click Here for More information about Finding out how many words YOUR child uses

Dr McMahon has provided ideas of how to talk about books to boost spoken vocabulary

Dr McMahon, Speech Pathologist, PhD has provided ideas of how to talk about books to boost spoken vocabulary

Ideas of how to boost speech with toys

Ideas of how to boost speech with toys

toddler Talk

Click Here for More Information about Boosting Speech, Language & Learning in Children


Sandra McMahon