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Late talking and stuttering - common questions answered

Q.1. My two year old son only says a handful of words. My friends’ children who are a similar age use many more words than him and talk in sentences. Should I be worried?

There is wide variation in the age children start to talk. For example, while some 2-year olds may have no words, others may be using sentences. On average, girls use more words than boys. Many 2-year olds who are slow to start talking will catch up by the time they are four. However, if your child is slow to talk and also has difficulties understanding what you say, interacting with others, or learning, an assessment with your health provider is recommended.

Q.2. My three year old son has started to stutter when he is excited or tired. I’m concerned because his father has a bad stutter and I’m wondering if my son is starting to copy him.

Stuttering is surprisingly common in young children of your son’s age. In fact, more than 11% of pre-school children begin stuttering, usually between the ages of 2 and 3 years when they are starting to combine their words. Stuttering often starts suddenly - over one to three days - which can be concerning for parents and carers. There is no evidence that stuttering comes from children mimicking adults. Rather it is likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Encouragingly, stuttering does not seem to impact pre-schooler’s language development. Also, young children who stutter have been found to be just as sociable and outgoing as their non-stuttering peers. While for many children, stuttering will recover without treatment, it is difficult to predict which children will stop and which children will continue to stutter. If you are concerned, or your son is bothered by his stuttering, a speech pathologist can provide an assessment and individual advice. Similarly, if the stuttering persists longer than a year, we recommend an assessment by a speech pathologist.

Q.3. My toddler is a late talker. How can I tell if she has a language problem or is just a late bloomer?

A. For some children, language development in the first five years of life can be unpredictable. Some kids are late talkers but then catch up, while others reach development milestones and then slow down. Often it is unclear why this happens and which pathway an individual child will follow. This means that although your child is late talking, it may not be possible to tell if they will develop language difficulties down the track. If your child has trouble understanding what people say, has trouble socialising with others or trouble learning, then late talking may be indicative of broader developmental difficulties. If there are no signs of these additional difficulties the outlook for your child’s language development is likely to be positive. For any concerns, talk to your Maternal and Child Health Nurse, GP or paediatrician or see a speech pathologist.

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