A child’s ability to communicate is a vital milestone, but what if your child is a late talker?

At some point we all encounter the guideline of what our child should be doing and by what age they should be doing it. There’s nothing better than working your way through that list and ticking off milestones as they achieve or conquer them.

Mommy is less panicked about a slow developmental progression and Daddy is ecstatic that his little nugget is hitting the boxes like a pro. It’s difficult to remember that, while a milestone checklist is a great way of tracking baby’s growth, it’s just a guideline which can be influenced by variables.

Note to dads: the team that scores first, is not always the team that wins.

Winning team late talker thank God

Ok, so you’re working your way down the milestone list and you both realise that little Timmy hasn’t started talking yet. Hell, he hasn’t even uttered a single word. You give each other that look of disquietude. Don’t worry, you say proudly, my boy will talk soon.

Then another month goes by. And then another. Soon you are way beyond the milestone of speech. You are on the cusp of 24 months, and Timmy is scarcely getting out a Mama or a Dada.

As confident a daddy as you might be, you begin to ask some questions about this developmental phase. You ask Google, and then you ask your mates. They deliver conflicting views, some sowing dread into your house that finds purchase and grows with each passing day. Panic sets in.

For dads: half-time has come and gone, and Timmy hasn’t scored yet. But before you stress, read on to the Conclusion below.

What does the milestone guideline say about speech?

According to BabyCenter, your baby’s first “mama” or “dada” might slip out as early as 6 months. However, only between 12 to 18 months will baby be able to say a word and understand what the word means.

Somewhere between 18 months to 24 months, Timmy should be able to form two- to four-word sentences. From age 2 to age 3, words should become phrases, and phrases soon turn into an understanding of symbolism and abstract language and acts, like talking on a phone.

late talker baby talking

When should you start worrying?

18 months

If your child does not try to imitate a cow mooing or a dog barking. Doesn’t point, wave or make use of other gestures. Or prefers gestures over vocal communication or sounds. If your child shows absolutely no interest in wanting to form words or does no effort to make goo-goo ga-ga sounds.

36 months

If your child repeatedly links common or basic words to the wrong actions. For example, he is referring to juice as milk, regardless of being corrected every time. Does not look at you when you are talking or when they are trying to convey a message. Severe lack of understanding words and actions.

48 months

Not understanding and not being understood.

What can you do?

An Ear-Nose-Throat specialist does a quick hearing test. If baby can’t hear properly, then baby can’t learn and copy properly. If your baby looks at you intently, but does not react to sound, then make an appointment. If the above milestones are not reached in the way described, then make an appointment.

Should the ENT find nothing wrong and the delay continues, then see a Speech-Language Pathologist. This will be a more detailed examination, which might still result in your baby just being a late talker.

Why is my child a late talker?

The reality is that your child’s speech development is totally dependent on your “baby talk” skills. Little Timmy is watching and listening, and eventually copying, what you are doing. In fact, studies have shown that language interpretation begins in utero, when the unborn baby begins to discern and respond to different voices.

This does not mean that you did something wrong in the house. It also does not mean there is anything wrong with Timmy. It only stands to reason that if a child starts walking two months earlier than normal, then something else must lag a bit while they master the concentration required in the act of walking.

It’s also important to note that the milestone of talking is directly linked to the development of baby’s tongue, lips, palate, and emerging teeth, which leads to the ability to make sounds. The other contributing factors are sight, sound and body language. Be assured, your baby is fluent in body language before he utters his first word.

See, there’s a lot of balls in the air. Chillax, you are doing a great job.

late talker milestone balls

Conclusion

In short, if your child does not have hearing loss or an oral impairment, understands simple verbal requests, attempts two word sentences, like “thank you” or “open door”, smiles or laughs at something funny, and can point, wave, or use other gestures appropriately to communicate, like saying “bye bye” while waving, then he is probably a late talker.

Regardless of being a slow talker or an orating savant, by four years old your child should be mostly understood by strangers using the same dialect.

While there is nothing wrong with consulting a specialist, the problem of speech often corrects itself in leaps and bounds between the ages of 2 and 4. It is vital that both parents agree unanimously that little Timmy is indeed wanting to – and trying to – communicate his thoughts with the world.

If you are really concerned, then get involved and get your hands dirty. Spend some alone time with them. While building puzzle or playing, introduce new words and enunciate while looking at each other. Read book, sing songs and rhymes aloud, play verbal games. You will soon know, and feel, if something is wrong.

James Fouche is an author, travel writer, entrepreneur and silly daddy of three. He also writes about parenting and wine, whenever his kids allow him to.