Identifying Language Delays In Young Children - Blog - Achieve Beyond

Identifying language delays in young children

By: Shain Davis, OTD, OTR/L

Children develop language skills at different times. Language development can also depend on a variety of factors including: their natural ability to learn language, other skills that they are learning at the same time, how much talking they hear during the day and what kind of response is given to when they do speak or attempt to speak (“Late Blooming or Language Problem?”)

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), there are several risk factors to consider when analyzing a potential learning delay


  • Receptive Language. A child usually understands the meaning of words before learning to speak. They may demonstrate this understanding by pointing to objects as you name them or by following simple directions. If a child appears to understand well for their age, then more often than not, they will catch up with their language. If a child does not seem to understand what others say, then a language delay may be present
  • Using Gestures. The more gestures a child uses to communicate (waving ‘hi’ or ‘bye’, putting arms up to be picked up, etc.) the more likely it is that their language will eventually catch up to other children.
  • Learning new words. Even if your child seems to be a slow talker, they should still be trying to use new words every month. If your child is doing this, then they are likely to catch up and not have a delay. A language problem may be evident if you do not hear new words often.

Late language emergence (LLE) is a delay in language onset with no other diagnosed disabilities or developmental delays in other cognitive or motor domains (“Late Language Emergence”). LLE is commonly referred to as ‘late talkers’. Late talkers may be at risk for developing language and/or literacy difficulties as they become older. LLE can also be a sign of other disorders including: social communication disorder, autism spectrum disorder, learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disability, or other developmental disorders (“Late Language Emergence”). Current literature varies in regards to prevalence rates for LLE, ranging from 13.5% in 18-23 month old toddlers to 16%-17.5% in 30 to 36 month old children (“Late Language Emergence”).

Protective factors against later language and learning problems have been suggested by the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities and include:

  • Exposure to rich and varied vocabulary
  • Responsive learning environments
  • Access to printed materials
  • Participation in group play
  • Engaging in physical and hands-on play based activities
  • Access to communication supports and services as needed

What should you do if you suspect your child has a language delay? You can have your child seen be a speech-language pathologist (SLP). The SLP will be able to assess your child to identify any possible concerns. The SLP may recommend direct services and/or provide suggestions for how you can monitor and promote language development at home.


“Late Blooming or Language Problem?” Averican Speech-Language-Hearing Association, ASHA

“Late Language Emergence.” Averican Speech-Language-Hearing Association, ASHA

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