11 Tips To Help a Late Talker

If you are worried about your child not saying any words yet, you’re not alone! If your toddler (~18 months) seems to have a good understanding of language (e.g., following directions, identifying objects accurately), as well as appropriate play skills, yet displays limited expressive language skills (ie., spoken language), he/she may be what’s considered a “late-talker”.

Research has not yet determined a specific cause for “late-talkers”; however, they are more likely to have a family history of early language delay, be male, and are more likely to be born at less than 85% of optimal birth weight (Lowry, 2016).

Rather than a “wait-and-see” approach, which may work for some children to “catch-up” on their own, it is always a good idea to seek a comprehensive evaluation from a speech-language pathologist. A speech-language pathologist will help determine your child’s specific needs.

In the mean time, below are some strategies to utilize in everyday activities (specifically during floor play-time, which is the most recommended!), to encourage your child to use his/her own voice. To help explain how to implement these strategies, it will be centered around the play scheme of “feeding” a baby doll.
  1. Self-Talk→ Talk out loud about what you are doing; use simple one-two word utterances. For example, when feeding the baby doll, say:

    “Ohhh… Mmmm… Eat… Baby Eat… Mmmm…Mmmm”.
  2. Parallel Talk→ Talk out loud about what your child is doing. If your child does not imitate action, place your hand on top of child’s hand and help child imitate the action of feeding a stuffed animal (ie., Hand over Hand assistance)

    “You feed baby”
  3. Point Talk → Point to items when labeling/identifying them. If your child needs help, place your hand over your child’s hand (hand over hand assistance) to help him/her point.

  4. Model with increased verbal intonation → Model words with increased verbal intonation (e.g., high pitch, low pitch), as it will increase attention and encourage your child to vocalize.

    “WOW baby EAT!”
  5. Simplify → Use simplified language, as it will help your child process vocabulary a lot more easily. Instead of “Look at the baby eating her food”, say “Look! Baby eats” Repetition → Repeat the simplified words over and over.

    “Baby eat!”, “Wow!”, “Yummy”, etc.
  6. Use verbal routines → Consistently use verbal routines, which are words that are repeated during a predictable times:

    An example of a verbal routine is:

    “1…2…3…. GO”
  7. Reduce questions and increase comments → It can be tempting to ask questions (e.g., “What is this?) to “test” if your child will answer; however, it is much more beneficial to comment using simplified language, to help your child build confidence to produce spontaneous vocalizations or words.

  8. Add 1 Word → If your child is currently producing one-word utterances, model two-word utterances; if your child is producing two-word utterances, model using three-word utterances, etc.

    “Baby eat!”

    “Baby eat food”
  9. 9) Sabotage → Set up so he/she needs your help. For example, give your child the baby doll with no spoon to “feed” the doll. When your child comes to you, prompt him/her to say/gesture, “help me”… “What should we say?… ‘help’”

  10. 10) Silence is okay too → During those moments of silence, it may be where your child shows us what we want to see.

  11. 11) Be Silly/Have fun → Use silly voices, use increased volume, jump around, etc. Provide a lot of clapping for each task your child does.
We hope these tips are helpful and remember that it is never too early to seek help. The earlier your child receives help, the faster he/she can find his/her beautiful voice!

-Andrea Scola, M.S., CCC-SLP, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer Reference:
How to tell if Your Child is a Late Talker – and What to Do about It. (2016). Hanen.org.

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