toddler not talking late talker

Why is my Toddler not talking yet? What causes a Toddler to be a “Late Talker”

Why is my Toddler not talking? What causes a Toddler to be a Late talker when there are no obvious signs of problems in other developmental areas or no medical factors have been identified has been the subject of much research. Up to 12% of toddlers may present with late talking.

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​The risk of being a late talker at 24 months has been significantly associated with both bio-medical (genetic) and environmental factors. Various research finding have included factors such as:

  • being a boy,
  • lower socioeconomic status- often linked to less book reading
  • being part of a multiple birth set,
  • older maternal age at birth,
  • moderately low birth weight,
  • lower quality parenting,
  • attention problems

Toddlers have been shown to be significantly less likely to be late talkers if they

  • engage in informal play opportunities with parents and carers.
  • Are read to or shown picture books daily.
  • Are part of a language rich environment with age appropriate and quality language models (engaging in activities that promote development).

There is some evidence that some children that are late talkers have underlying weaknesses in one or more of the following skills that support language learning:

Possible areas of Weaknesses
Auditory attention to spoken words just don’t tend to tune into speech.
Auditory memory don’t retain words when they hear them.
Imitation skills don’t spontaneous copy others actions, sounds or words.
Auditory perception/processing don’t make connections between what is said & actions or effects of those words (cause-effect skills).
Word retrieval Know what things are (e.g., will point if asked “where’s the _____” but finds it hard to think of the name of things when they have to name them by themselves (e.g., answering “What’s this ____”). If can feel like they have the words on the “tip of their tongues” but can’t actually say them.
Motor Planning Reduced ability to co-ordinate their tongue and lips to form the words.
Phonological Discrimination Don’t focus on the actual speech sounds in words. While there is nothing wrong with their hearing they don’t notice differences in the sounds words have e.g. pig vs big or cat vs dat.
Grammatical Rule Learning Find it hard to understand and learn to use little grammatical words like “is” or adding “s” to word when there is more than one (cat vs cats).
Turn-taking skills Not good at understanding the importance of taking turns e.g. in games (peek a boo) or “conversations”.

Ways to help encourage Speech and Language Development

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Hammer CS1, Morgan P2, Farkas G3, Hillemeier M2, Bitetti D4, Maczuga S2.(2017). Late Talkers: A Population-Based Study of Risk Factors and School Readiness Consequences. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2017 Mar 1;60(3):607-626..Rescorla L1. (2011). Late talkers: do good predictors of outcome exist? Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2011;17(2): 141-50Collisson BA1, Graham SA2, Preston JL3, Rose MS4, McDonald S4, Tough S2. (2016). Risk and Protective Factors for Late Talking: An Epidemiologic Investigation.J Pediatr. 2016 May;172:168-174.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.02.020. Epub 2016 Mar 8.Olswang, L.B., Rodriguez, B. & Timler, G. (1998). Recommending Intervention for Toddlers With Specific Language Learning Difficulties: We May Not Have All the Answers, But We Know a Lot. American Journal of Speech Language Pathology, 7, 23 - 32.

Sandra McMahon

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