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Late talkers and prelinguistic skills

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Children 18-30 months of age who have a limited number of words, but are developmentally on track in other areas (e.g., crawling, understanding words), may be considered “late talkers.”

By 18 months, it is expected that a child have at least 20 words, and by two years old about 50 words. While every child develops in their own way and at their own pace, it’s important to “check and see,” rather than “wait and see” if the child will catch up. A speech therapist is the most qualified person to assess if a child’s speech and language development is on track or if the child could benefit from intervention.


When assessing a young child’s language, there is more to consider than just the words they say. The following areas are considered pre-linguistic skills that develop before spoken words and ultimately support a child in using expressive language. Some prelinguistic skills include:


Gestures: As babies motor skills develop, their use of gestures becomes essential to early communication. These intentional movements include pointing, shaking their head yes or no and putting their hands up to request to be picked up.


Imitation: Language is developed through imitation, so being able to copy things other than language is an important first step. Imitation can be developed through playful interactions and routines!


Joint attention: Around 9 months, a baby may begin to share an interest in the same thing as another person. Through joint attention an adult and child can begin to develop other prelingusitic skills like imitation, as well as expressive language.


Other prelinguistic skills include: initiation, attention, vocalization, facial expressions.


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