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Will my Late-talking Child end up Having a Language Disorder?

Cara Barthelette, MS, CCC/SLP, Pediatric Speech Therapist
January 3, 2019 . 2 min read

Parents of young children with slow language development may wonder whether or not their children will catch up with peers and outgrow their difficulties. About 50-70 percent of late-talking children demonstrate normal language abilities by preschool and school age. But what about those who do not? It can be difficult to know what to do. Should you seek help or wait and see?

Although no one can know for certain how a child’s language skills will turn out, there are certain predictors that can help to determine whether or not a late-talker will catch up with peers.

The following risk factors may increase the chances that a late-talking child will end up having a language disorder. They include:

Delayed receptive language. Research shows that delayed ability to understand language, also known as receptive language, persisting after age one may be more indicative of future language disorders.

Lack of gestures. When late-talking children use more gestures to express themselves, their language abilities may be more likely to catch up with their peers than those who use fewer gestures.

Family history of language or learning difficulties.

Ear infections in the past.

Limited or no babbling as an infant.

Not using many consonant sounds in speech.

Not imitating words.

Slow rate of language development. When young children are not progressing in language development in some way at least each month, there may be cause for concern. Examples of language progress include: adding new vocabulary words, using the same words for different purposes, or combining words into longer utterances.

No pretend play.

Older age of diagnosis. Studies have found that the younger a child is diagnosed with a language delay, the more positive the outcome compared to those who were diagnosed at an older age.

These risk factors apply to children 18-36 months of age with normal intelligence. The presence of these risk factors increases a child’s chances of having a language disorder, but does not automatically mean a child will have one. What should you do? Seeking out help early, rather than taking a “wait and see” approach, is recommended to prevent possible future language difficulties. For children who are late-talkers and have any of the risk factors listed above, an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist is a first step in the right direction.

Sources:

  • American Speech-Language Hearing Association
  • Late Blooming or Language Problem?
    The Hanen Centre
  • How to Tell if Your Child is a Late Talker — And What to Do About It.

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