By Kathryn Peck
Three of my children were early talkers. They spoke a lot then, and still do now. That’s why it was so surprising when my fourth baby hit an all-important language development milestone around 12 months, but he didn’t say a word. Not a babble, not a peep, not even one of those wonderful words that only a mother can understand. “Wawa” my others would say, and I’d fill their sippy cups with water without a second thought.
He didn’t say a word. Not a babble, not a peep, not even one of those wonderful words that only a mother can understand.
Over the next few months, I watched and listened, eager to make note of his first word for the baby book, but nothing happened. Rather, he would grunt and point.
And the older he got, the more frustrated I became because his requests grew more specific and the guessing game of what he wanted got tougher. Instead of a grunt and a point when he wanted water, he’d get irritated because he actually wanted crackers instead; what seemed like the same sound to me would, in fact, mean many different things to my son. With still no words to express himself as he neared the 24-month mark, my patience waned and my worries mounted.
According to healthychildren.org, language delays are the most common type of developmental delay in children. In fact, one in five children learn to talk or use words later than other children their age. Simple speech delays are oftentimes temporary, but there are times when a child may need more help from a trained professional or a speech and language therapist.
In speaking with Aubrey, a writer for Bicycle Pie and mother whose son also experienced language delays, she says, “We noticed our son wasn't beginning to say words like his peers, so our pediatrician recommended we work with Early Intervention.”
She goes on to say, “The speech pathologists supported our efforts and gave us tools and activities to employ in our everyday interactions with our son. Instead of reading a book with him sitting on my lap, we tried to turn him around so he could see our mouth forming words. When we played with common toys such as blocks or Play-Doh, we emphasized words like ‘up,’ ‘crash,’ and ‘squeeze.’ We also kept an eye on his receptive language skills, which were clearly strong. He would follow multi-step directions and respond to us in non-verbal ways, so it was clear he understood everything, he just couldn't respond with words.
When I spoke with our pediatrician about my son’s “lack of communication,” (always speak to your pediatrician if something concerns you), she assured me that he was, in fact, communicating, albeit without words. His sounds, his facial expressions, his movements – they all counted as communication. He responded to his name, he’d retrieve things you might ask for, and he’d certainly point at what he wanted. Maybe we weren’t ready for the “first words” page in the baby book, but this news was encouraging to hear.
When I spoke with our pediatrician about my son’s “lack of communication,” she assured me that he was, in fact, communicating, albeit without words.
It may be a waiting game, but there are things you can do to help encourage words in late talkers and keep your own worries at bay, like:
- Talk about the regular things you do each day and what your child is does each day
- Respond to your child’s play and talk about it
- Use repetition when you speak
- Make eye contact
- Read and sing to your child often
- Leave time after you talk or while you read to give your child a chance to respond (this can help teach about conversation)
Well, in my case, patience prevailed. In only a few short months, my son’s language exploded. There are so many milestones in your little one’s early years, it’s important to look for them but it’s equally as important to be flexible about when they’ll be reached.
About the author: Kathryn is the owner of Bicycle Pie and mom of 4 little ones. Also a writer, editor, and former owner of one of Boston's premiere baby boutiques, she continues to write about motherhood, children's products, family life, and all other things that test our skills and patience as parents.
Photo credit: iStock.com/Dean Mitchell