Helping Late Talkers at Home

Welcome to the Late Talkers series. Please check out my previous two articles if you want more information on this topic. In my first post, I discuss suggested speech therapy goals for late talkers. In addition, you may want to read more about evaluations for toddlers who are late talkers.

Today’s discussion centers on a frequently asked question: how can parents help their children who are late talkers?

Today, I’ll share 5 things you can do at home to help your child build language if he or she is a late talker.

1. Any Communication is Good Communication

Does your child point to communicate? Gesture? Turn towards an object he/she wants? Vocalize or babble? By treating all communication (even communication without words) as true communication, and responding to those requests, you are already building language skills.

2. Wait it Out

Perhaps your child has a preferred snack. Let’s say it is a favorite cereal. Give your child a few pieces of cereal, and then wait for him/her to ask for more. Waiting for several seconds (counting seconds helps to know you are actually pausing for long enough) allows your child time to process and decide what he/she wants to do next.

Does your child point or gesture? Use a vocalization or a babble? That is communication! Since we just learned all communication is good communication, reward your child with the rest of the cereal when any communication is attempted.

Of course, we are not punishing children or withholding items they need. Forcing a child to talk is one guaranteed way to stall that skill! However, waiting several seconds for a communication gesture can build language skills.

What if there is no communicative act? Perhaps your child didn’t want the cereal. Maybe they need more support (like guiding their hand to point to the object).

This probably goes without mentioning, but this step should be completed under the guidance of your speech language pathologist. It’s a tricky one to achieve the right balance of challenge and reward.

3. Sabotage

Sabotage is a playful (and fun) way to build communication by introducing a goofy or funny communication hurdle to jump. By sabotaging – or delaying – the next step in a routine, an opportunity for communication develops.

How can you use sabotage to help your child build communication skills? Using the same cereal example, how could you use sabotage? One example would be to place your child’s bowl upside down in front of them. Or, give your child a straw instead of a spoon. This one involves more planning, but one parent froze the cereal in the milk bowl the night before. This resulted in laughter, fun sounds, and taking turns attempting to eat the cereal the next morning. Of course, after your toddler tires of this, the real bowl would be promptly brought out!

You know what would be fun (versus frustrating) for your child, so plan accordingly. With sabotage, there shouldn’t be a requirement to speak. Instead, the point of sabotage is to offer a shared experience. Memorable, shared experiences are ones we can talk about when they are happening and long afterward.

4. Out of Reach

This example goes with #2 (Wait it Out). For example, place the cereal on top of the refrigerator, just out of reach. This can invite communication, since a toddler will need help to get the desired item, and this can encourage communication. Out of Reach also goes with #1 (Any Communication is Good Communication). The point is to not make Out of Reach frustrating but to offer an opportunity to ask for an item and practice communication.

5. Develop a Communication Routine

A communication routine can be anything you do that is fun and has multiple steps. For example, building a tower and then knocking it down could be a two-step play routine (I always make sure to say “boom” when I do this, and many clients will imitate this). Creating a play routine means there is repetition for children to practice anticipating a routine and communicating. Learn With Adrienne (who I recommend as a resource) has an awesome video teaching a communication routine called the dramatic sneeze.


I hope these suggestions have helped you get started with some activities to build vocabulary with your child. Remember, speech language pathologists are here to support you in your journey. The load is lightened when you don’t have to go it alone. If you are looking for a speech language pathologist in Southern Oregon, contact me for more information here. If you live outside of the Rogue Valley area, I recommend using ASHA Pro Find to find a qualified SLP near you.

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