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Health & Pregnancy

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Helping Your Late-Talking Children

If your child seems to be a late talker, when is the time to seek help? What's normal?

Seeking Advice

If you're concerned about your late-talking children, see your pediatrician or seek an evaluation from a speech-language pathologist (many are certified by the ASHA). A speech-language pathologist may administer tests, analyze the child's speaking abilities, and counsel parents on ways to stimulate language development. These kinds of services may be free or low-cost under provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

When a hearing problem is suspected, your late-talking children might be referred to an audiologist (many are certified by the ASHA) for a hearing test. About 1 million children in the U.S. have some type of hearing loss.

How important is appropriate intervention? Late-talking children may have lingering language-related problems and develop learning disabilities in school, says Downey. "Oral language is the foundation for all academic areas, including reading, writing, and math," she says, and the more time that passes before help is sought and provided, the weaker the foundation on which future learning will be based. She compares it to trying to build a house without a framework to support the walls.

In 2002, a study by Bryn Mawr College researchers concluded that children who were found to be late talkers by the ages of 24 to 31 months old tended to become poor readers and spellers, and have weaker vocabularies, in the early years of elementary school.

"I cringe when I hear people say, 'Don't worry, he'll outgrow it,'" says Paul-Brown. "Unless your child has had an evaluation by an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist, you don't know if that's really true."

Encouraging Normal Speech

To support normal speech and language development in your youngster:

  • Talk to your baby and young child throughout the day, including during bath time, while changing diapers, and during meals. For example, get your child's attention, and then talk about what you're doing ("Look, I'm opening the refrigerator and I'm getting out food").
  • When you speak with your child, talk at a level above his own. "If he's using three words at a time, you shouldn't use only three-word sentences," says Paul-Brown. "But at the same time, don't overwhelm him with very complex sentences."
  • "Babies seem to pay more attention, and imitate more, when their parent talks in what's been called 'motherese,' which is a higher-pitched, baby-talk type of voice," says Agin.
  • Sing to your baby, and read to her beginning at a very young age.

For additional information about normal speech development in children, as well as referrals to ASHA-certified speech-language pathologists in your community, contact the ASHA (

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