Delayed Milestones :: My Kid Doesn’t Talk

Trust me.  I know how it feels.  Filling out those pesky developmental checklists and checking ‘no’ for not just one skill, but a whole section.  Heck, I have one kid I don’t even read the questions anymore because it’s ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’… easier just to get it over with quickly.  But that’s a whole other ball game.  Today I’m just focusing on the one section that gets all my kiddos every time – language, specifically, expressive language.

I know they understand what I’m saying.  They can follow commands, point to pictures, imitate gestures and sounds, but actually use words to communicate?  HA!  I’m more likely to get an eye roll or a point and grunt.  And it’s HARD to not get frustrated.  Nobody likes the never-ending guessing game of what a toddler wants.

Kids typically develop receptive language {listening and understanding} before they develop expressive language {using words and gestures to communicate}.  Based on my observations administering early childhood developmental screeners for school districts and working closely with Speech Language Pathologists, one of the most {if not THE most} common developmental concerns parents have is delayed expressive language {aka “a late talker”}.  One thing I do know is that preemies and multiples are both highly at risk for delayed expressive language, so with having preemie high order multiples, I wasn’t shocked that 5 of mine have hit every developmental milestone except talking.  I mean not. even. close.

I have been blessed to have access to wonderful teachers and therapists through our local ECI program who have worked with my kids since they were itty bitty, and my Leah has her own set of therapists who are truly fantastic.  Thankfully, her therapists don’t mind when I pick their brains about issues with my other kids…  like how they don’t talk like typical 2 year olds…  and what can I possibly do at home to help them catch up…  and it’s going to be ok, right?

Well, guess what?  Turns out there’s plenty you can do at home to foster their development.

ReadFour photographs from left to right, top to bottom. Three toddlers with open books on their laps, an older man reading to a baby, a mother reading to a toddler, a woman reading to five babies.

Yes, any reading you do with your kids is beneficial, but in this case I’m not talking about reading the book as it is written in a your normal voice.  Talk about the pictures.  Do the silly voices.  Add sound effects.  Work your kid’s name into the story.  Ask your child questions about the pictures and to point and to touch items on the page.  {It’s okay to skip pages people!}

Ask Questions

When your child is first developing receptive language, you will ask things like, “Where’s the ball?” and “Point to the car.”  Once your kiddo has those types of tasks down pat, it’s time to move on to open ended questions.  Open ended questions will foster the development of expressing language.  Instead of “where is” or “point to,” ask “who is” and “what is.”  After you ask… WAIT.  Like an awkwardly long time.  Don’t be too quick to tell them the answer.  You want them to give any sort of verbal response – be it a grunt, approximation, or an understandable word.  THEN you can jump in with the right answer.  But not too many questions.  You don’t want to overwhelm their little brains.

Talking and Modeling

When you’re not waiting them out for a response… TALK.  Talk about what you are doing, what they are doing, describe your surroundings, and label any and all objects.  The more they hear the words and correct modeling of language, the more likely they will be to use the words.  And when your kid is a late talker, they need more modeling than you think.  Be repetitive!

Sign Language

Who knew, right?!  This stuff works!  I have learned that children develop the motor skills to sign {or close enough} and understand language way before they can express it.  Studies have shown that using baby sign language {signs for more, eat, drink, sleep, mama, dada, book, etc.} helps bridge the gap between receptive and expressive language development and increase cognitive development and IQ scores.  And when your little one can communicate their wants and needs, it relieves so much frustration for both of you! I wish I had started signing earlier than I did.  A few months ago I heard about Signing Time and got my hands on a couple of the DVDs.  I tested them out with my kids, and within a week they were using signs to communicate.  Within a month they knew every single sign on the DVD, they were using the signs appropriately, and SAYing new words at a much quicker rate.  I actually had to watch the DVDs myself to learn what my kids were telling me!  And if DVDs aren’t your thing, Signing Time airs Saturday mornings on PBS.


Helpful Websites :: Not only great resources to purchase, but free videos and podcasts containing tons of information and strategies for parents and professionals.  I personally like her short Tip of the Week videos.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association :: Everything you need to know about typical speech development and detecting problems

Seeking Outside Help

I am by no means an expert on this topic.  These suggestions are strictly based on my own experiences with my children and speaking with therapists I know personally.  If you feel your child is significantly delayed {by 6 months or more} and these simple at-home strategies are not helping, talk to your pediatrician.  If your child is under the age of 3, you can also contact your local ECI provider.  If your child is 3 or older, contact your local school district.  They provide FREE screenings and services to those who qualify.  Of course, there is always private speech therapy, but it can be pricey if your insurance doesn’t cover it.  I personally recommend Riverkids Pediatric Home Health for any private therapy needs because I truly just love them that much.

Lastly, if you’re dealing with this issue, I want to tell you that it’s going to be okay.  If you’re super stressed about your child’s developmental progress, STOP.  It’s not a race, and it’s not a contest.  Do what you can and seek input and help if needed, then give it time.  One of my boys didn’t roll or scoot or anything until he was 11 months old.  Then he was the third one to walk and first to jump.  One of my late talking girls had less than 10 words at the age of 2.  Now at 2 1/2 she is popping off new words everyday and has passed up all her siblings.  Point is, don’t get too caught up in those pesky checklists.  Reading in silly voices is way more fun anyway.


  1. Had to respond.
    My son was speech delayed, received ECI services at age 24 months and we were told he was going to “catch up”.
    He didn’t and ended up with an autism diagnosis at age 3.
    Pediatrician missed it, ECI missed it, preschool teacher suggested we get him tested thank God so we could start getting him intensive therapy many hours a day.
    Speech issues can be signs of a bigger problem – take it seriously.

    • Hi Lisa! I appreciate you responding. My first thought was “You go Mama!” I actually considered mentioning bigger issues in my post, but decided to go a more specific route. I intended this post for children with only expressive language issues. I applaud you (and high five and thumbs up) for seeking early intervention for your son and doing all you can, it truly makes a HUGE difference. Some children with autism are high functioning and it can be hard to notice at a young age, so I’m glad your son’s teacher suggested testing. Developmental delays should be taken seriously and intervention should absolutely be implemented, but, again, my intentions were to help moms enjoy the process rather than worry and stress all the time.


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