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Myths and Truths about Late Talkers
What is a “late talker”?
Late talkers are children between 18-30 months of age, who present with limited spoken vocabulary. These children have good understanding, play skills, social skills, and motor skills, but lack the ability to express themselves verbally. Let’s examine the common myths and misconceptions about late talkers.
Myth 1: All boys are late talkers
Truth: Boys do tend to say their first words later than girls; however, this is only by a few months. And while boys are three times as likely to be late talkers, compared to girls of the same age, it is still concerning when a child, of any gender, presents with a language delay.
Myth 2: Wait and see
Truth: We’ve all heard this one before: “Don’t worry, my neighbour’s son didn’t talk until he was 3” or “Einstein didn’t talk until he was 4”. This myth causes many families to postpone the necessary therapy due to the belief that they will grow out of it. While 50-60% of children who are late talkers tend to catch up on their own, 40-50% do not. For those children who do progress on their own, they may exhibit negative outbursts and frustrations until their language develops and their parents may feel frustrated at not being able to understand what they are trying to say.
Myth 3: Learning two languages causes language delays
Truth: Children learning two languages go through the same developmental milestones in both languages. They tend to reach these milestones at roughly the same time as children learning one language. Children learning two languages may have smaller vocabularies in each of their languages; however, when combined together, their vocabulary size should be the same as those children learning only one language.
Myth 4: Second- and third-born children tend to be late talkers because older siblings talk for them
Truth: Studies have shown that language development of first-born and later-born children are similar. So while older siblings may interrupt or talk for their younger siblings, this does not appear to negatively impact language development.
Myth 5: Using a pacifier causes children to be late talkers
Truth: The research in this area is inconclusive. Some studies do suggest a correlation between prolonged pacifier use and language delays; however, other studies do not find the same thing. Most of the studies that found a relationship between the two, found delays in articulation, not delays in acquiring first words. While the verdict is still out on the effect of prolonged pacifier use and language delays, if a child’s mouth is occupied with a pacifier much of the time, there is less opportunity to babble, imitate sounds and ultimately practice sounds and words.