Introduction – We Have a Late Talker!
Hearing your child speak their first words is one of the best milestones to experience. Our son said “Papa” at 7 months old and “mama” was soon to follow, but after this was radio silence until well after 2.5 years old. I found myself asking questions like:
- “Was there more I could have done early on to help our son talk? (although we read a ton of books and I narrated everything throughout the day)
- “Did we make a mistake speaking two languages since birth to our baby?”
- “Will my son catch up by the time he starts school?”
I’ve talked with many bi-lingual families who also experienced a speech delay, but science says that the brain can separate two languages and speaking two languages to baby does not cause a speech delay. Our son understands Russian and English perfectly, but when he went to “school” at 2.5 years old, we decided to speak only English to see if this would speed up the talking process. All the kids in his class were talking full sentences so we knew there was a delay. We are not really sure if this made a difference though because he was not talking much (probably 20 words) even at almost 3 years old.
A few months before our son’s third birthday, we had him evaluated by Birth to Three to see if he would qualify for speech therapy. Birth to Three is an amazing (and free) “federal program that assists states in operating a comprehensive statewide program of early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities, ages birth up to age three, and their families.” (Birth23.org).
Once you schedule an evaluation over the phone, two speech therapists visit your home and interact you’re your child and ask a ton of questions (each state is different as to how many and which professionals are sent to evaluate your child). It was a fun and interesting process.
Our son was diagnosed with a significant expressive speech delay, but because he excelled in all other areas of development, he did not qualify for their speech therapy program. They recommended that we wait until age three and have him re-evaluated by the public school system (another free option to get your child speech therapy services). As a mom, I was really impressed to learn that there is so much help for kids with learning disabilities.
By the time our son turned three, he was talking A LOT more. He was saying a ton of words but not all were said correctly, but still we were happy to see progress. Instead of the school system, we decided to use our insurance and go to a speech pathologist and in just a couple visits we saw a big improvement. Now, after 6 weeks of therapy, our son is saying words correctly AND stringing together 2 or 3 words at one time on his own.
Three Tips if You Think Your Child Has a Speech Delay:
#1 Don’t worry if you have a “late talker”
First and foremost, almost ALWAYS your child will catch up and start talking – unless there is an underlying medical condition. For example, I was watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and I learned that Denise Richards’ adopted daughter does not talk at age 7 because of a missing chromosome (this is very rare).
Always work closely with your pediatrician to rule out any medical reasons for your child’s speech delay – for example, our pediatrician’s son (same age as our son) also was a late talker and it turned out that he had conductive hearing loss.
Of course I am not a doctor and this blog is not to give medical advice, but our pediatrician explained what this meant with a really good example. One morning she said to her son, “I’m going upstairs to get dressed.” Her son replied, why are you going to rest?” (He was confused because it was morning and they just woke up and was wondering why mom was going back to bed). This was a red flag because her son was hearing the words but not clear enough to decipher the exact words (dressed versus rest).
When speaking with world-renowned speech pathologist, Sherry Y. Artemenko MA, CCC, SLP, (CEO and Founder of Play On Words PAL Award), she explained kids that have fluid or wax built up in their ears or have conductive hearing loss, hear garbled words just as if you were under water and someone was speaking to you outside of the water. It’s always a good early step to see an ENT (Ears, Nose, Throat) doctor to rule out hearing loss, but first start with your pediatrician. Here is a great article: How to Detect Hearing Loss in Children
#2 Don’t wait to get help
It’s okay to wait and see if your child will talk, but the sooner you start the conversation about a possible speech delay the better so there is a plan in place. You also don’t want to be overly aggressive as your child may just need an extra 6 months to catch up.
#3 Share your story to help other moms/dads
We are never embarrassed to share our son’s speech delay story and in fact we completely accept it. Showing confidence in your child is really important. All kids are unique and develop differently. By sharing with other parents, I have learned tips and just having another mom say they went through the same experience and now their child is talking is so comforting. Plus, by sharing with other families, you could help them take action if their child is delayed.
How to Help a Baby Talk – Early Learning is Key
When our son was a baby we read a lot of books and I narrated everything we did throughout the day. I believe this had a huge part in his comprehension – he has always excelled in understanding what we are saying.
Here are three ways parents can encourage baby’s first words and help develop language skills:
#1 Read books
With a newborn you can actually read anything to them – a magazine, mom’s book (except those steamy romance novels), or even a newspaper. For the first three months babies just need to hear your voice rhythms and inflections to start learning speech.
When babies are three months old, “she will be more interested in hearing the rhythmic, rhyming dialogue in a board book along with watching the bright, contrasting illustrations.” (Play on Words)
After three months, rather than just reading the words, make it more interactive start pointing at photos and describing what you see to baby.
Some great books for 3 months old to help develop speech are:
- Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
- Butterfly Kisses by Sandra Magsamen
- Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton
- Fuzzy Bee and Friends by Priddy
For toddlers you can start engaging them in reading such as: “Where’s the red ball?” “Do you know where the kitty cat is?” “Is this ball purple or blue?”
#2 Narrate Often
Narrating is very important and exposes your baby to a lot of words – and most important quality words. There are two types of narration including self-talk and then narrating your child’s actions.
I did this A LOT with our baby – I’ve had lots of people turn their heads at the grocery store probably thinking, “Who is she talking too?” and then noticing my baby (hopefully!).
Playing with Words 365 is an amazing resource and they give two great examples:
Self-Talk = “describe what you are seeing, hearing or doing when you are with your child.”
Example: “Mommy is making cookies! I am putting the chocolate chips in the batter! I am stirring. I am putting them in the oven.”
Narrating your child’s actions = “describing what your child is seeing, hearing or doing.”
Example: “Wow! You are building a tower! Oh you have the blue block. You threw the red block!”
Our speech therapist says that even if your child is not repeating after you, the important thing is they are hearing you model the correct words and phrases.
Read more in the article: How to Help your Child Talk – Become a Narrator
“In addition to your ‘running commentary’ describing your activities like a reporter to your baby, you should have some times of using short, tuneful, simple sentences such as ‘Up we go’ or ‘Bounce up high.’ Each activity—changing a diaper, watching his mobile, feeding and dressing, provides a backdrop for a series of little sentences. Diaper time could include ‘Pick your feet up,’ ‘Rip off the tabs,’ ‘Ooh, the diaper is wet,’ ‘Wipe your bottom’ and ‘Now you’re dry.’ You will naturally use some of the same expressions during each activity and your baby will start to learn the vocabulary associated with that category of activity.” (Play on Words)
#3 Choose PAL Winning Toys
The PAL Awards (Play Advances Language) is an amazing resource to find reviews on exceptional toys, games, and books that encourage language, spark fun, and invite creative play. The CEO and Founder, Sherry Y. Artemenko MA, CCC, SLP, has helped children for 35 years and her award-winning speech therapy site has a motto I love: “Play Advances Language” One of my favorite toys that recently won a PAL Award is the First Words Baby Babble Training Trumpet by People Toy Company.
People Toy Company is known for their amazing Brain Builders, the best developmental toys for baby to help them develop and reach milestones faster. As a mom I love how they break each toy down into an age category and show what type of skills the toy helps baby to learn. All the toys by people Toy Company are tested by real moms and kids before reaching the market, which is probably the reason their toys are so amazing and become kid favorites.
First Words Baby Babble Training Trumpet
Don’t you just love the noises a baby makes? It’s not only adorable, but these noises are the start of baby talking so we love this very engaging developmental toy to help babies talk for these five reasons:
#1 Turn baby babble into first words
“When babies round their lips to attach to the mouthpiece, they are exercising important oral motor muscles for speech that contribute to the production of the sounds ‘u, p, b. and m.’ As their speech muscles strengthen, they are able to combine sounds and finally say first words around one year of age,” shares Sherry Artemenko, Play On Words Founder & CEO.
#2 Two Way Whistle
As baby blows out or sucks in, the toy makes a unique whistle noise that plays music.
#3 Playful Beads & Familiar Shape
Babies love cups so this toy shaped like a sippy cup is really genius. The colorful beads stimulate baby as they move the toy while adding a cool bead sound and depth while playing.
#4 Easy to hold and Carry
The toy has two handles so it’s easy for baby to grip and hold. Plus, it can attach to the stroller or diaper bag for easy carrying (clip sold separately).
#5 Long-Lasting Value
Here’s a great bonus feature…older toddlers love playing with this toy! On the Play on Words website, Sherry Artemenko shared this:
“As children get older, 2-3 years of age they are able to blow out as well as suck in so now they are using the trumpet to vary the notes a bit and enjoy some pretend play. My little 2 year-old referred to it as her ‘milk,’ and ‘water bottle’ throughout play and offered me several drinks as she kept hold of it during play. With each blow she’d stop and giggle, proud of her accomplishment. It continued to be her toy of choice during play when she would point to it and say, ‘That one!’” Artemenko adds.
Playonwords.com is my favorite place to find the best toys that help develop language in babies and toddlers.
“At three months of age, your baby shows excitement when a toy or book is placed in front of her. Chose toys that have contrasts in color and pattern, texture, and sound as well as flexibility in movement so you have opportunities to describe using varied and rich vocabulary,” says Artemenko.
“Whoozit by Manhattan Toy: is a baby’s favorite with varied black and white contrasting patterns on the back and a smiling face on the front with seven appendages to flog and rattle to keep your little one entertained. Lots of textures and shapes to describe, this toy even has a peek-a-boo nose.”
(Play on Words – Best Toys and Books for Babies to Help Baby Talk”)
As exciting as your baby’s first words are, keep in mind that all kids develop at their own rate. When babies focus on one skill or milestone, sometimes others are put on the back burner. AS parents we can be proactive to help our kids develop language and if you feel there is a delay, have a conversation with your pediatrician to make a plan.
Do/did you have a late talker? How did you handle this? Comment below to share your story and tips.