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Delayed Speech or Language

You may suspect that your young child is delayed in their speech or language development.  You may have noticed that:

  • they are late talking: children generally say their first words at 12-15 months and start combining words at 18-24 months.

  • they use a lot of non-verbal strategies to communicate, for example gestures, signs, vocalisations or leading you to what they are interested in.

  • they need visual clues in order to understand what you say:  if you don't point or show them what you mean, they struggle to understand instructions.

  • they have unclear speech.  Even close family struggle to understand what the child is saying.  It is common to have unclear speech until 24-36 months, but seek advice if you are not sure.  You can refer to the tables below for a more detailed guide to speech and language development.


Language development happens largely in the brain.  We can't see it happen.  Just because your child is not talking does not mean that they are not learning and understanding language.  They may be communicating in all sorts of ways, but just not using clear speech yet. 

Some children are 'analytic language processors' and pick up single words first.  When they acquire about 50 single words, they start to combine them into phrases.

Other children are 'gestalt language processors'.  They focus on the musicality of language first.  They may use open vowels and tuneful babble but with not distinct words at first.


I can help you untangle this, and we can work in a collaborative way to work out which strategies are going to be most useful for your child.  A phonecall with me is free, 

a cute child

Ages and stages of speech and language development*

*these norms are for an analytic language processor.  For gestalt language processors, thier language will develop differently, but this still follows a predictable pattern.  See more on gestlat language processing here.

a table showing the ages and stages of typical speech and language development
a girl painting

You have not done anything wrong!

If your child is a late talker, you have not done anything to cause this!  You have probably provided exactly the same support as other parents.  It's just that some children need different types of support in order to acquire language.

I can work alongside you and provide some simple strategies that are likely to help.  For some late talkers, four or five sessions are enough to get things moving.  For others we may work together a little longer.  

Young children are experiencing a lot of brain development all at once.  They are:

  • managing new experiences all the time: as adults, we forget how exhausting this is!

  • experiencing complex sensory inputs, not only from their immature visual, auditory and tactile senses, but also from their developing vestibular (balance) and proprioceptive (awareness of body in space) systems.

  • developing new motor pathways: things that we do automatically, like sitting up straight, changing position, and manipulating different objects are still new to them.  

  • developing 'maps' of the world around them, and how they can interact with objects.  For example putting things in and taking them out of containers, building bricks and knocking them down.

  • constantly working out how to interact with new toys and activities.  We are living in an incredibly complex world where toys are unlimited and electronic gadgets are everywhere.

  • distinguishing speech sounds from background noises, like traffic noise or aeroplanes going overhead.  Adults can filter this out, but children haven't learnt to do this yet.

  • working out the meaning of words and phrases.  Children have to hear the same word or phrase many times in different situations in order to work out its full meaning.

  • regulating emotions as they move through their day.  Young children don't have the life experience to know that emotions are temporary and that situations change.  A temporary frustration can seem to them like a major catastrophe.

We can help them by:

  • providing a calm presence for them.  We are their safe space when they are exploring the world.  They need a safe space to come back to when the world is scary!

  • being present for them when they are playing.  Just five minutes of sitting with your child whilst they play can have a big effect on them.

  • when parents are worried that their child is not talking, it can make them anxious and they talk more and ask more questions.  This can compound the problem, as the child has less processing time and less opportunity to try out sounds, words or phrases.

  • you are not to blame if this has happened!  It is a natural response.  But we can change it by being quiet ourselves and really tuning in to all the ways the child might be trying to communicate.

  • we then notice their more subtle attempts to communicate.  This might be with their face, their body language, gestures or pointing.  They may be saying sounds really quietly, or attempting words and phrases but their speech sounds are not clear yet.

  • the more we tune in and value children's communication, the more they try out new sounds, words or phrases.  We have to get quiet first!

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