Sunny Days Blog

Late Talker or Speech Delay? How to Help Your Child Start Speaking


Do you have a “late talker” at home? If so, this blog post is for you.

While children develop at different rates, there are generally-accepted guidelines for when we expect children to reach certain milestones. If your child doesn’t reach those milestones on time, you may begin to  worry that your child has a speech delay.


What is a Speech Delay?

A speech delay is the phenomenon of not being able to communicate using spoken language at the expected developmental age. Typically, babies begin speaking single words between 13 and 18 months. A two-and-a-half year-old child should be able to speak 50 words, though pronunciation will likely often be unclear. Children with a speech delay may also have trouble understanding the words they hear. Utilizing a speech milestones chart will help you determine typical toddler speech development patterns.

What is a Late Talker?

A late talker is a toddler who begins speaking later than other children their age. Children are typically evaluated for late talking between ages 2 and 3. While they may have very limited use of speech, late talkers understand spoken language and are usually developing typically with other skills—socializing, thinking, and motor skills.

What Causes a Speech Delay?

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, a speech delay can be caused by autism, psychosocial deprivation, delays in mental development, cerebral palsy, expressive language disorders, and more.

When Should My Child Begin Speaking?

Children typically say their first word between age 1 to 1.5 years

If your child has not started speaking by their first birthday, the good news is that there are many options out there to help your late talker catch up and improve speech skills. For example, if your child is under age three, you can  contact Early Intervention (EI) to see if they qualify for services. In addition to finding services, through EI or elsewhere, there are many simple things you can do at home to help your late talker.

How to Encourage Your Toddler to Talk

1. Self Talk

Self talk is a simple activity  you can do in any location without any materials. Self talk is the act of talking about what you are seeing, doing, or hearing.

For example, if you are going for a walk with your child, you can talk about things you see along the way (e.g. "I see a tree. I hear a car."). Another easy way to implement self talk is while you are cooking or doing chores; you can narrate the steps in the process (e.g. "I’m mixing the batter. I’m cracking the eggs.").

Although self talk may feel silly at first, your child is learning a lot from you. The self talk strategy teaches your child new vocabulary and how to form words into phrases and sentences.

2. Parallel Talk

Similar to self talk, parallel talk involves narrating things that are seen, heard, and done. The difference between parallel talk and self talk is that with parallel talk,  you will talk about things from your child’s perspective.

For example, if your child is building with blocks, you could say something like, “The tower is big.” By talking about activities or objects in which your child is already engaged, you are increasing the likelihood that they’re listening and interested in the words and phrases you are saying, which in turn helps them to learn the vocabulary more quickly.

3. Choices

Providing your late talker with choices is an excellent way to encourage communication development. And it’s as easy as it sounds! Start by holding up two things (e.g. toy car and book) that may  interest your child. While holding up the objects, name each one as you show it to your child. Then, ask your child which object they want. If your child attempts to communicate their preference, such as by pointing to or looking at it, they should receive the requested item. As you give your child the desired item, you should reinforce the choice by naming the item again (e.g. “Here’s the book.”).

4. Toy Placement

In most (if not all) households with children, toys tend to be everywhere and easily accessible. If this describes your house, consider moving some of your child’s favorite toys out of reach but still in view. By placing toys out of reach, you are encouraging your child to ask for them. Asking for toys can look different depending on your child's age. For example, for a child who is not yet speaking, “asking” can mean that your child is looking at and pointing to the desired toy. If that happens, you can model the name of the item (e.g. “blocks”).

5. Time Delay

Many times, when a child is delayed in talking, we focus on inundating them with words and phrases as a way to encourage communication. Although it is valuable for us to talk to encourage communication (as evidenced by many of the previous strategies), it’s equally important for us to be quiet. By using the time delay technique, we are doing just that—sitting in a momentary silence.

When using the time delay technique, you will pause or wait a few seconds to give your child the time to attempt some form of communication. During this delay, you should not provide language models, ask questions, or anticipate what your child wants or needs. For instance, if your child is trying to reach a snack that is out of reach, it is easy for you to come to the rescue and immediately get it and give it to them. It’s important that you resist this urge and, instead, watch the activity unfold. By engaging in the time delay, you are waiting to see if your child will attempt to communicate what they want or need.


Now that you’ve read through these simple ways to encourage your late talker’s language output, consider which strategies will be easiest for you to implement on a day-to-day basis. The more consistent you are with using the strategies, the more likely your child is to benefit.


Disclaimer:  The  above blog post and  responses to  questions below are   not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is for informational or educational purposes only.

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash


Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP

Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP is a bilingual (English/Spanish) speech-language pathologist and the owner and founder of Liberty Speech Associates LLC, a speech therapy practice located in Hackettstown, NJ. She is also the co-author of the book From Meals to Milestones: 35 Delicious Dishes to Encourage Child Development. For more information about Courtney, visit her website at