Many times when a toddler isn’t talking yet, it’s because he doesn’t understand language. If you haven’t thought of this as a reason for late talking, let me encourage you to start here with what speech-language pathologists refer to as receptive language skills.
Receptive language means the language a child understands or comprehends.
This is how I explain the connection between receptive language (the words a child understands) and expressive language (the words a child says) to parents of late talkers:
Babies and toddlers must understand words before they begin to use those words to talk. It’s that simple. Comprehension comes first. When a child isn’t beginning to link meaning to words he hears, this is one of the main reasons he isn’t talking yet.
Learning to follow directions, especially easy ones such as, “Give me the ball” or “Wave bye-bye to Daddy” are the kinds of commands most babies begin to understand (and do!) just before they start to use their first words. Some parents mistakenly think saying the word “ball” or “Dada” come first, when actually, new talkers usually demonstrate that they understand what any familiar word means before we hear him use the word.
Around a baby’s first birthday, these are the kinds of things he or she should be learning. When a one year old can’t do these things yet, he or she doesn’t understand words well enough to begin to talk. Work on these kinds of things first and then words will be more likely to emerge:
- Responds to own name
- Responds with gesture to “Want up?”
- Recognizes family members’ names
- Stops when hearing “No” and other inhibitory words
- Waves “Bye-bye”
- Gives an object on request with and without cues
- Kisses on request
- Performs familiar activities in daily routines when asked
- Understands names for familiar objects and people
- Participates in social games with gestures
- Begins to identify a few body parts
While this list isn’t all inclusive, it’s a great place to begin to help your toddler understand and follow early directions.
Rather than setting goals for a toddler to talk, this is the list I use for initial speech therapy goals for children I see with receptive language delays. Naturally, these are the same things I recommend parents focus on at home before talking becomes a realistic expectation.
Receptive language is important and I believe it’s the most overlooked delay with late talkers, even among professionals. When I teach my courses for pediatric speech-language pathologists all over the country, therapists consistently thank me for the focus on receptive language. While we know it’s important, we don’t always directly target these skills as a critical first step in therapy with late talkers.
I’ve written many, many posts about receptive language and you can read those here.
If you need some help with learning how to teach your toddler to follow these early directions, I have some great resources for you!
My DVD set Teach Me To Listen and Obey 1 & 2 explains receptive language and shows you how to teach a toddler to understand words during play.
My book Teach Me To Talk: The Therapy Manual provides specific directions and activities to work on all of the above milestones and more! While it’s written for therapists, parents who like written instructions and discussion love the structure of this tool.
Teaching toddlers to Play Social Games is an important step for helping a child learn to “do his part” during an interaction. Check out the linked post above. For step-by-step instructions and tips for teaching toddlers, take a look at my book Teach Me To Play WITH You.
you can teach words anytime, anywhere!