All parents are excited to hear their baby's first words — will it be "Mama" or "Dada" — and it's a huge milestone. But what if your little one is still just making gibberish sounds? You find yourself wondering if his speech and language development are delayed.
The case often is we are just over-eager and quick to worry. (You can check here the warning signs of speech and language delay, from birth to 3 years.) It also possible he is a late talker; experts call it Late Language Emergence (LLE).
LLE, as defined by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), is "a delay in language onset with no other diagnosed disabilities or developmental delays in other cognitive motor domains. Toddlers may be diagnosed with LLE when language development progression is below age expectations."
"Late-talking toddlers are usually typically developing in all other skills (fine motor, gross motor, cognition, and social/emotional) but speech," writes Rebecca Hass, toddler speech-language pathologist and mom to twins, in Talking With Toddlers.
The signs and symptoms of LLE vary since studies are mostly based on parent reports gathered by ASHA. Some of them are:
If the child has delays and differences in babbling before age 2
If by age 2 the child one has fewer than 50 words
If by age 2 the child does not string two words together
If the child's speech has phonological differences compared to his peers
If the child uses shorter and less grammatically correct words
If the child uses less communicative gestures
If the child exhibits understand fewer words or displays delayed comprehension
Notice that the symptoms are similar to warning signs of speech and developmental delay. About 50 percent of late talkers catch up to their peers and grow up to have typical speech and language development. But some late talkers may still be diagnosed with speech and language delays later on.
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Other factors that may play a part in your child's diagnosis are gender, family history, birth circumstances, and motor development. Boys are more at risk for LLE than girls. Preemies and kids who had delayed motor development are also more likely to have LLE.
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Family history and the mom's education can also be a cause for how early or late a child starts talking. In a study, families with low income and educational attainment can offer little support and resources to a child's language learning and speech development.
What to do if you suspect your child is a late talker
First, have his hearing checked if you haven't done so already. If your child's last hearing test was after birth, have it checked again.
Second, continue to encourage your toddler to talk by interacting with him a lot. Talk, sing, and create different sounds with him. Use gestures, facial expressions to make interaction fun and not a serious activity. Take it easy on screen time.
Third, pay attention to your child's speech-language milestones — understanding of language, use of gestures, and learning of new words. Write down your observations, so it's easier to convey them to your child's pediatrician.
Remember, every child develops at his or her own pace. Noticing some delays in your tot does not automatically mean he has a speech and language delay. It's always best to check with a professional, so your child can get early intervention if needed.