Late Talker Definition
A mom sent me this definition of “late talker” and asked me if I agreed. I absolutely think it sums it up.
“Late talker is a term used to describe children between the ages of 18 to 20 months who have fewer than 10 words and children between the ages of 21 to 30 months who have fewer than 50 words and/or no two-word combinations. These children are, however, typically developing in the areas of comprehension, play, motor?and cognitive/learning skills.”
The key to this definition in my mind is the “typically developing in the areas of comprehension, play, motor, and cognitive/learning skills.”
This definition does not include children who test below average in how they understand language, demonstrate decreased social or interaction skills, exhibit fine or gross motor delays, or have any other learning issues. It would also not include toddlers who are exhibiting any other “stereotypic behaviors” or other traits commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder. (I’m in the process of researching a post on the definition of stereotypic behaviors in toddlers since we get so many questions/searches about this on our site. Look for this in the next few days/weeks.)
There is a debate about when/how the term “late talker” should be used for toddlers since many groups are now favoring this term rather than any other diagnosis that would lend itself to a “negative” view of a child’s development.
As a parent, I understand that you may not want your child “labeled” so that a teacher or administrator would misjudge your child on the perceptions of a diagnosis rather than getting to know your child’s individual strengths and weaknesses and appreciate him for who and where he is.
However, as a therapist, I tend to want to say to parents, “Don’t kid yourself.” Any experienced teacher or professional who has worked with children long enough will KNOW when there’s a difference. Actually you want them to “KNOW” so that they can give your child the special help he or she needs. “Hiding” a child’s diagnosis or avoiding getting one when it’s applicable is really not the best approach in my opinion.
For one thing, children with a formal diagnosis typically qualify for more services, especially after a child turns 3 and is out of the early intervention system. While most school districts and insurance companies base their eligibility decisions on what a child’s needs/weaknesses are and how his performance compares to other children through standardized testing, having a diagnosis DOES seem to make a difference in getting your child the special services he may need.
Forget trying to get most insurance companies to pay for speech therapy with a diagnosis of “language delay” or “late talker.” You’re going to need more than that, or else you’ll end up paying out-of-pocket or using the free public school option. (By the way – many school districts have wonderful SLPs that are highly qualified to treat your preschool or school-aged child. Unfortunately, like in any other profession or subject matter, some do not. There are mechanics that I will not allow to work on my car, hairdressers I won’t let come near my hair, and classroom teachers I’d prefer not teach my children math, science, history, or reading. SLPs are not immune to this dilemma.)
If you’re afraid having your child “labeled” at age 2 or 3 may dampen his chances for academic success on down the road, let me give you a little heads up. Keeping your child from getting additional help for a real developmental or educational need is what will hurt his chances more than any “word” someone could write down on his “record.” It’s a rare occasion when a school system or any other payor “fights” to keep a child in services when their parents don’t want them to continue. It always seems to be the other way around. Parents are “fighting” to get their child additional services that nobody wants to fund. No “diagnosis” or “label” will outlast our child’s improvement. When your child is ready, most school districts and insurance companies are more than happy to quit paying for extra services.
That being said, having or not having a specific diagnosis does not change how I or any other experienced therapist would provide treatment for a child. Good therapists look for a child’s weaknesses and needs, and use techniques to target those specific challenges, with or without a label. I have treated many children on my caseload who weren’t officially diagnosed as having autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, or other “scary” diagnoses for parents who weren’t ready or willing to hear those words.
Fortunately services can be obtained for young children without an official “reason” beyond developmental delay until a child is older. I always hope for the child’s sake that the parent will be ready and willing to pursue additional testing at that point if the kid still needs it. As a parent, make sure that it’s not your own self-esteem you’re trying to protect by avoiding a correct diagnosis. If that’s the case, it’s your child who will suffer. Parenting a child with special needs is difficult, but not calling it what it is won’t make it any easier.
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