Posted: Aug 29, 2012 9:00 AM
Some kids are genuinely late talkers and others have a diagnosable speech delay. But how can you know for sure which category your child falls into? Here’s what to look for and how to proceed as you try to walk the line between wait-and-see and being proactive.


When our children are small, we eagerly anticipate their first words, and we dream of the day when we finally hear them say our name.

But what if those words don't come according to those milestone charts? How long do you wait and hope before you have to ask yourself if your child is just a late talker or has a true speech delay?

What are the signs that you should be on the lookout for?

Growing concerns

allParenting's Dr. Mom, Melissa Arca, M.D., offers the following as red flags for concern:

  • No gesturing or pointing to communicate wants and needs by 12 months old.
  • No single words like "Mama" or "Dada" by 12 months old.
  • Less than 15 understandable words by 18 months old.
  • Not putting two words together, like "more milk" at 2 years old.
  • Unable to understand and follow simple directions, like "bring me your cup" at 2 years old.
  • Not making eye contact and/or not openly showing affection to loved ones by 18 months of age (combined with a speech delay) may signal a more global developmental delay, such as autism.

Getting help

Experts at the University of Michigan Health System explain the importance of seeking help early: "You can't really tell whether a child with delayed speech is a late bloomer or has an expressive language disorder or other underlying cause of speech delay. That's why it's worth seeking help. The earlier your child gets help, the greater their progress will be. And if they turn out to be a late bloomer, the extra attention to their speech will not have hurt in any way."

If you have any concerns at all about your child's language development, it's best to have your child evaluated early by a speech-language pathologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

A speech-language pathologist can test your child's receptive and expressive language, analyze your child's utterances in various situations, determine what might be causing the delay in language development and counsel you on your next steps.

Studies show that the earlier the child is at time of diagnosis, the more positive their outcome.

Early intervention is a win-win. If you learn that your child is simply a late talker, your mind will be put at ease. If your child has a true speech delay, you'll know that you did everything in your power to help them get help early and quickly.

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