My Son Was a Late Talker When her toddler son showed little sign of speaking, this SLP was reminded of the differences and diversity in children’s language learning. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   October 01, 2018
My Son Was a Late Talker
Author Notes
  • Carol Karlow, MA, CCC-SLP, retired in 2017 from the Special School District of St. Louis County after a 32-year career as a school-based SLP. carol_k@swbell.net
    Carol Karlow, MA, CCC-SLP, retired in 2017 from the Special School District of St. Louis County after a 32-year career as a school-based SLP. carol_k@swbell.net×
Article Information
Development / Special Populations / Language Disorders / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   October 01, 2018
My Son Was a Late Talker
The ASHA Leader, October 2018, Vol. 23, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.23102018.72
The ASHA Leader, October 2018, Vol. 23, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.23102018.72
As a speech-language pathologist, I had worked with many children whose language development, according to norms, was delayed. Yet my own son, Nick, gave me new perspective about late talkers.
Nick was almost 30 months old and still using only a few single words. He said “mama,” “dada” and “Beau,” our cat’s name. He would warn “hot” as he pretended to cook with a toy spoon and pan. He did not combine words into two-word phrases. Mostly he was quiet, and his protective older sister would speak for him.
Although Nick didn’t speak, he understood most of what we said to him. He was able to follow directions and point to many pictures in books. I felt reassured to know that his receptive language was strong, but I wondered and worried about when he might finally start to talk.
Using my background and experience, I applied my knowledge of children’s speech and language development. I monitored Nick’s language development and worked to give him lots of language stimulation. During our daily routines and activities, I modeled vocabulary and phrases. I also reinforced language skills while we read books and played with toys.
One chilly December evening, Nick had been bathed and was dressed for bed in his blanket sleeper. He walked to a window where I had often pointed to show him the moon. He turned to me and said, “No moon,” because the moon was not visible that night. I screamed with excitement and ran to tell my husband that Nick had just spoken his first two-word phrase. He was almost 2-1/2 years old.
Soon, Nick’s expressive language began to develop more quickly. He began speaking in phrases and short sentences. By the time he was in preschool, he demonstrated typical speaking skills. Later, Nick became a gifted student and a chess champion. He is now in his fourth year of medical school.
I have learned that Nick is typical of a group of late-talking children who are bright and develop strong language skills. Children in this group are mostly male, and they tend to excel at analytical tasks. Economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell, whose son didn’t speak until he was almost 4, has researched and written extensively about this group.
Late use of language may be an early sign of a disorder such as specific language impairment, social communication disorder, autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disabilities. However, according to the ASHA website, “approximately 50 percent to 70 percent of late talkers are reported to catch up to peers and demonstrate normal language development by late preschool and school age.”
When I think of the anxiety and concern I felt when Nick was 2 and not yet talking, I am reminded of the differences and diversity in children’s language learning.
2 Comments
October 3, 2018
Laura Smith
Sends the wrong message in an issue about EI
I'm an SLP and my daughter too was a late talker. I did everything in my power to help her. I did language stimulation EVERY night. I did signs, bought the baby babble CD's, read to her, sang to her. My husband was a late talker and I held on every last hope that this was my daughter's problem too. Unfortunately, I wasted a year doing language stimulation because it turned out my daughter has Childhood Apraxia of Speech. Langauge stimulation doesn't work with CAS. This is why we have Early Intervention, and why ASHA recommends if there is any concern regarding motor planning that it is treated with a provisional label of suspected CAS.

I'm thrilled for you and your son. How wonderful. However, stories like these prevented me from getting help for my daughter as I held out hope she too would be a late talker like her father.
October 7, 2018
Deborah Broughton
Really ASHA?
I am very glad that as an SLP you had the knowledge and expertise to continually evaluate your child and help him. However, promoting stories like this is why pediatricians and so many families think its fine to follow a "wait and see" model. Also, 50% to 70% are not odds I am willing to play with. What about those other 30%-50% of kids who don't catch up? Come on ASHA, do better!
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October 2018
Volume 23, Issue 10