Question: “My son is nearly two, and he’s still not talking very well. The other kids his age at his day care are so communicative, and he really seems far behind. Should I be worried about my late talker?”
It’s hard not to be concerned about speech delays in toddlers, especially when every Tom, Jack, and Sophie in the toddler room seems to be speaking in full sentences and yours is not. While we all know, intellectually, that comparing kids isn’t wise, it’s hard to resist (especially when there’s such a hard-to-ignore sample right in front of you).
But of course, as with everything else in toddler development, children learn to talk at different rates, and not only is that normal, there’s usually good reason for it. Sometimes toddlers who develop early in other areas (like climbing and jumping and other physical tasks) master language more slowly because they’re so busy concentrating on those other skills. And sometimes children whose parents (or older siblings) are quick to anticipate their needs are slower to speak up, too — because there is less of a need to. And in cases where children are exposed to two languages early on, they may not speak as early as single language tots. In all of these cases, children typically catch up in their language development without intervention. In fact, most late talkers go on to speak beautifully and do just as well in school as the early blabbermouth tots.
But let’s face it: Some kids do have developmental delays when it comes to language, and the sooner late talkers are identified and can get help the better. So start by doing a little detective work. Watch how your child responds to what you say. Does he understand questions like, “Are you hungry?” Can he follow basic commands like, “Please bring me the cup”? Does he communicate nonverbally (by pointing, for example) when he wants something? If so, those are good signs; your child is probably just a late bloomer.
If he doesn’t seem to be able to follow what you’re saying or communicate what he wants (or you simply want extra reassurance), consult your child’s doctor about speech delays in toddlers. Request a hearing test and ask for a referral to a certified speech and language pathologist who can formally evaluate your son. If tests do indicate your late talker has a language delay or an oral-motor disorder, you can begin speech therapy as soon as possible (it’s readily available, and free, through your local school district). Early intervention can work wonders.
Good luck to you both!