Late Talker or Late Bloomer?

Is my child a late talker (late language emergence) or a late bloomer? This ALWAYS seems to be the question of the hour. 

This is BY FAR the MOST COMMON question I get from clients, friends, family, and literally people off the street. 

If a child isn’t talking by 1.5 - 2 years of age, there is an overwhelming panic!

Some people fear the worst and some people say “he will outgrow it” or “she is just a late bloomer.” Now, I’m here to tell you that EVERYONE is right. Some kids are just late bloomers, but some kids have late language emergence or are “late talkers.” 

Without a comprehensive speech and language evaluation by a qualified speech-language pathologist, it is almost impossible to pinpoint if a child has a delay/disorder or is developing right on track but those first words are just slow. 

Even for speech-language pathologists, the answers aren’t always clear. However, there are risk factors to consider when deciding if a child is a late talker and requires speech therapy or if a child is just a late bloomer and CAREFULLY monitoring progress by a professional is the way to go (while supplementing with lots of home language strategies).

Risk Factors For Late Talk or Late Bloomer

1. Family History

Children who have a family history of late talkers, specific language impairments, or really any speech/language disorder have a higher likelihood of also having similar disorders. Researchers believe genetics may play a large role in speech and language disorders. 

However, I wonder (my opinion) if there is some nurture (nature vs nurture) component that plays a role. If a parent has a language disorder or a history of a language/learning disorder, he/she may raise a child differently. 

For example, that parent’s interests might be less language-based (i.e., long walks or gardening). Therefore, the child might be exposed to less varied vocabulary or just less language in general (talk less during the day).

2. Receptive Language

Research has shown that if children have strong receptive language skills (understanding), they have a greater chance of being a late bloomer and they might “catch up” with time. However, this isn’t a diagnostic indicator. Even if a child has good receptive language but not talking, a speech-language screening or evaluation is still recommended!

3. Use of Non-Verbal Language

It is a good sign if a child, who is not saying many words, uses gestures and/or signs to communicate needs/wants/ideas. This pre-verbal communication skill indicates that the child wants and knows how to communicate (by any form) and understands the concept of communication. 

4. New Language Skills Each Month

This is an IMPORTANT one, especially for speech pathologists who are monitoring a child’s speech and language progress. It is CRUCIAL that a child continues to improve/increase use of functional vocabulary (variety of nouns and verbs), expressive grammar skills, rate of communication, and mean length of utterance EACH MONTH. If there is a plateau in progress, therapy may be needed. 

5. Being Male

Males are 3 times more likely to have late language emergence (Zubrick et al., 2007). 

6. Age of Evaluation

If a child is evaluated at the age of 18 months and has a delay, it is better than a child who is 2.5 years or older and has a language delay. As the child gets older, language expectations increase exponentially and any delay will have a great impact on many developmental areas. Also, the gap is widening! 

If a child STILL has a delay after 3, he/she is most likely not just a late bloomer. There is something going on!

7. Delayed Motor Development

A child who has delayed speech and language development and has delayed motor development has a greater chance of having late language emergence instead of just being a late bloomer. (Klee et al., 1998; Rescorla & Alley, 2001)

What To Do If Late Bloomer is Suspected

If, after a thorough evaluation, you believe your child or your client is just a late bloomer, then carefully monitoring progress over time is ESSENTIAL!

You want to make sure the child is improving speech, vocabulary, and grammar skills each month. If there is a plateau in progress or progress is too slow, speech therapy is needed.

In the meantime, it is a good idea to implement these strategies at home TODAY

Or buy our Toddler Talk eBook for a step-by-step guide to jump start a child’s language skills!

My Child Has Late Language Emergence (late talker/language delay)

If your child has a language disorder or language delay, breathe... You got this!

First, schedule speech therapy and find the RIGHT therapist for your child. It is okay to try a few to find the right match. 

Ask the right questions before beginning treatment!

Reference:  Late Language Emergence. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from http://www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Clinical-Topics/Late-Language-Emergence/



Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech-language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference. Follow Bridget at Facebook and Pinterest for more fun!

Author of  child language development eBook series