“Oh, he’s just stubborn!” “My uncle’s cousin’s wife’s nephew’s son didn’t talk until he was 5 years old, then he began to talk up a storm.” If you are a parent of a child who is not yet talking or if you are an Early Intervention therapist, I’m sure you have heard numerous reasons about why. Let’s just start with this, “If your toddler COULD talk, s/he WOULD be talking.” Honestly, toddlers love to be the “boss” of their big people and it would certainly be easier for them (and their grownups) if they could communicate their desires verbally. Not to mention that children this age do not yet possess the cognitive capacity it takes to be stubborn and/or manipulative. So, we really need to change that way of thinking.
Admittedly, it may be easier to think a child is ‘stubborn/strong-willed’ as opposed to having a delay or disorder however, most children who don’t talk, are just not able (yet). This may be due to a variety of different reasons, but we should not ignore or make excuses for late talkers. Possibly, a child has a hearing loss. If words are not heard, they won’t be spoken. It is important to rule out this possibility, first and foremost. If you have concerns about your child’s hearing, consult with your pediatrician who can make a referral to an audiologist, if needed.
Perhaps a child is saying a few words, but their vocabulary is limited to the same word(s) used over and over rather than learning and using new words. The difficulty/delay could be due to a cognitive deficit, wherein the child is not understanding, and therefore not using, more words. It may be a matter of introducing and teaching the meaning of new words, and once the new words are understood (receptive language), if the child is able, they will say them (expressive language). The child’s vocabulary will expand with more word comprehension. Consult with an Early Intervention Specialist (Speech Therapist or Special Instructor) for suggestions about how to do this.
Another reason a child may not be talking or using new words could be due to an underlying motor planning deficit. In this case, the child may not have the motor skills to produce all the movements/sound sequences for new words. The child literally cannot say the word due to a neurological deficit or a “disconnect” from the signals the brain is sending to the motor neurons required for movement of the oral structures (aka articulators). Again, this is an area where an Early Intervention Speech therapist would be able to help.
If a child isn’t communicating, it is our job in as Early Intervention therapists to search for strategies and tools to make communication possible and successful. These tools may include teaching gestures, and/or using pictures, before we ever get to the point that we can teach words (we should always be modeling words though, not just using gestures or pictures with no verbalizations). It is also our job in Early Intervention to train caregivers and provide them with the tools needed to easily carryover strategies into their daily routines.
There are so many reasons a child doesn’t talk (yet) however it is most important to understand that one of those reasons is NOT due to stubbornness! So, I beg of all caregivers, don’t turn “talking” vs “not talking” into a power struggle. No one wins!
Don’t delay and don’t just “wait and see.” Call us today if you have concerns!