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Should you, "wait and see?"

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

Communication development in children 3 and under can vary greatly, making it difficult for parents to know if their child is behind in their development, or if they will eventually catch up. The term "late talker" has historically been used to describe children who:

- are between 18 – 20 months and have fewer than 10 words;

- are between 21 - 24 months and have fewer than 25 words;

- or are between 24 – 30 months and have fewer than 50 words and/or no two-word combinations;

- and have no major areas of concern in other areas of development (e.g. understanding, play, social, motor, cognitive skills)

Historically, the "wait-and-see approach" has been applied based on the idea that this group of children is likely to catch up to their peers on their own. There is now a body of evidence, however, which strongly suggests this is outdated thinking.

Long term research has demonstrated that adolescents who were identified as "late talkers" during their early years had significantly lower performance later in life in their vocabulary, grammar, and verbal memory tasks than typically developing peers (Hawa et al., 2014). These children also demonstrated weaknesses in:

- Language and literacy skills such as phonology, writing fluency, listening comprehension, narrative language skills, and reading.

- Domains that rely on language abilities such as executive functioning, emotional and behavioral regulation, and social skills (Hawa et al., 2014; Capone Singleton, 2018).

Research now suggests children who demonstrate the following risk factors should be considered for intervention:

- quiet as an infant

- limited babbling

- family history of speech, language, learning or academic difficulties

- history of ear infections

- parent variables (i.e., socioeconomic status, interaction style)

- limited consonant repertoire

- limited sequenced pretend play

- mild delay in comprehension skills

- lack of, or reduced use of, representational gestures

- lack of verbal imitation

- expressive vocabulary consisting of mostly nouns with few or no verbs

- poor social skills

- limited change in expressive language skills over time (Earle, 2015 )

What parents should do instead of waiting:

Hawa et al. (2014) state “there is conclusive evidence that the Hanen program combined with focused stimulation improves speech and language outcomes from birth to three years of age” (p. 405). Protective factors have been identified which may lead to positive change with intervention. Parents can learn strategies to communicate and interact more effectively with their child, which provides responsive feedback. Capone Singleton (2018) explains, “A parent-implemented intervention balances the interaction style in the caregiver-child dyad…and shows greater effect sizes in expressive vocabulary growth when compared with other treatments” (p. 23).

By partnering with Thrive Speech and Language, parents can learn to implement these effective strategies which help their children improve their speech and language development. If you are concerned about your child's speech or language skills, call today for free consultation.

About our services:

In-home services are available for families living in Burr Ridge, Hinsdale, Western Springs, and Willowbrook, IL. Video consolation services are available for parents throughout Illinois.


Capone Singleton, N. (2018). Late talkers: Why the wait-and-see approach is outdated. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 65(1), 13-29.

Earle, C. (2015). Making Hanen Happen Leaders Guide for Target Word™ — The Hanen Program® for Parents of Children who are Late Talkers, Fourth Edition. Hanen Early Language Program: Toronto, ON.

Hawa, V. V. & Spanoudis, G. (2014). Toddlers with delayed expressive language: An overview of the characteristics, risk factors and language outcomes. Researchers in Developmental Disabilities, 35, 400-407

Lowry, Lauren. "Don't wait-and-see, research suggests." Retrieved from:’t-wait-and-see,-research-suggests.aspx


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