"Late talker" is a term used to describe children between the ages of 18 to 20 months who have fewer than 10 words, and children between 21 to 30 months who have fewer than 50 words and/or no two-word combinations.
Although 70 to 80% of late talkers will outgrow a language delay—if it is an expressive delay only, with no delays in comprehension or social us of language--20 to 30% will not catch up to their peers and will have persistent language difficulties, including difficulty with reading and writing.
Speech-language pathologists can assess late talkers and help parents decide whether they might benefit from early speech and language intervention.
Risk factors that flag concerns for persistent language difficulties include: few words as a toddler, and any of the following:
- Quiet as an infant; little babbling
- Doesn’t imitate words
- Doesn’t use gestures to communicate
- Difficulty following directions and recalling sentences
- Positive family history for language learning delay
Late talking alone is not a predictor of later language disorders, but when late talking is combined with other risk factors, it is worthy of investigation by a speech-language pathologist. Early interventions, including direct treatment, home strategies, and monitoring, result in better outcomes. Parents never regret acting too early, but often regret acting too late.