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Late Talking Toddlers

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

One of my favorite populations to help as a speech-language pathologist is late-talking toddlers. Concerned parents will often tell me, “he can say the word but he just won’t do it on his own”. It is important to consider the stark difference between your child communicating and your child imitating.

In my speech therapy sessions, I avoid saying “say ____” and having the child repeat the word. Admittedly, it is a hard habit to break. It is easy for parents and speech-language pathologists alike to tell a toddler to say a word and then reinforce his or her use of it. Below, I have outlined some different, more naturalistic approaches which will teach your child how to communicate instead of solely imitate.

1. OWL (Observe, Wait, and Listen): This is one of the main tenants of the Hanen Program: It Takes Two to Talk. As a certified Hanen therapist, I always make sure the parents of my clients are “OWL-ing” with their toddler. Instead of telling your child to “say go” while playing cars, for instance, the parent should observe what her child is interested in, wait for him to do or say something (“vroom”), and then expand on the child’s utterance (“Yes! Go!”).

2. Provide choices: Providing your toddler with choices gives him some control over his communication. An easy time to practice this skill is during meal time (“Do you want a goldfish or a pretzel?”) Remember that not all children are ready to speak using words- some children who have delayed language skills may point to their choice- and that is fine! Meet your child where he is right now.

3. Fill-in-the-blank: This is another one of my favorite techniques to use with late-talking toddlers. While singing a well-known song, the parent or therapist can pause and look expectedly at the toddler to fill in the blank (“The wheels on the bus go round and ______). The wait time and expected look will let your child know that it is his turn to communicate.

As always, if you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, consult your primary care physician and contact a local speech-language pathologist. And remember- early intervention is always best!

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