Imagine a scenario: Callum's mum has noticed that at two years old, he's not really talking-well, certainly not as much as his sister was at that age. He's happy but he plays by himself a lot, usually pulling and pointing to communicate what he wants. But should Callum's mum be worried? No doubt he'll get there...won't he? Learning to talk...it's one of those things that just happens...isn't it?
For many children, the answer is yes - although there are lots of things we can do to support them. They move through the stages of learning to talk without needing any extra help and before their parents know it they are chatting away, having mastered the crucial language skills that they will come to rely on throughout their life.
However, this isn't necessarily the case for all children. There are a significant number - in some areas over 50% of children - who start school with delayed language.
But what do we mean by delayed language?
Children with delayed language communicate like a younger child. They use simpler sentences, fewer words and can struggle more than their peers or classmates to understand long instructions. For older children, delayed language can mean they have a poor vocabulary, may find it difficult to put their thoughts into words for explanations or to change the style of talking to suit the situation. With the right support, children with delayed language development can catch up and do well. Doing this as early as possible will mean there's a much better chance of making progress. That's why it's absolutely essential for children to have their language skills monitored, any difficulties identified and help given if they need it.
Crucial to parents and practitioners being able to identify if a child has delayed language development is having the information they need about typical development. Just as with all developmental milestones, we have guidance about what we expect children to be able to say and understand at different ages and stages. Children develop at different rates, but they usually are able to do certain things at certain ages. Information, like the milestones guide on the Talking Point website, will enable parents and practitioners to spot if a child has delayed language development. There's also a Progress Checker that can be used to see if a child is where they should be in terms of their language development.
Anyone concerned about a child's language should get some advice. Get in touch with your local speech and language therapy service to talk to them about the child's language skills and ask about assessment. I CAN's speech and language therapists can give free information on typical language development and parents and practitioners can book an appointment by contacting I CAN Help.
Delayed language is a reality for some children. But with the right support early on, at home or in school they can catch up and do well.