Late Bloomer, Language Disorder, or Language Delay? How to Determine the Next Steps for Your Child

Watching your child grow up is wonderful, but it can sometimes be challenging. Many parents find their children struggling to communicate verbally. Could they be a late bloomer? What is a  language disorder vs. a language delay? Is intelligence related?

Here is how to determine the next steps for your child if you’re wondering the same thing.

What Is a Language Delay?

Sometimes kids don’t develop the ability to speak until later than expected. This is a language delay. They may understand what other people are saying but cannot form words to respond. Experts estimate that 2.3 to 19% of children experience language delays.

What Is a Language Disorder?

Language disorders can be expressive or receptive. Expressive kids use gestures to communicate until they learn to speak. Receptive delays involve an inability to hear words or understand their meaning.

You’ll be able to tell these disorders apart if your child doesn’t respond to sounds or react to your words as they get older. With a doctor’s help, they may undergo treatments or surgery to correct developmental hearing issues.

How to Spot a Late Bloomer

There are numerous ways to spot a late bloomer and determine if your child just needs more time. Late bloomers may learn words from conversations and reading but rarely talk, if at all. When you ask them to point to something, they could gesture at the correct object but remain unable to say the word.

Talk with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for quarterly check-ins to gauge your child’s progress. If they don’t reach certain milestones by different birthdays, you’ll know if there’s something more serious going on. SLPs are available in most cities and even accept affordable insurance plans if you sign up with partnered companies.

Risk Factors for Language Delays

Language challenges with young kids are often associated with specific risk factors. Reflecting on the following factors could help you determine if your child is dealing with a language delay vs. a disorder.

  • Having Family Member Who Experienced Language Delays

Many people don’t realize that language delays are frequently hereditary. Although they can occur individually, research shows that genetic diagnoses affect 26.8% of cases involving a developmental language delay.

While considering your child’s potential language delay and intelligence related to their communication skills, think about your other family members. If your parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents were diagnosed with a speech delay or disorder, your child might be more likely to have one.

  • Being a Male Child

There’s evidence that boys are more likely to have language development challenges due to their higher testosterone levels compared to girls. This doesn’t mean every young boy will begin speaking later in life. However, it may increase their odds of speech delays or disorders if they also have other risk factors, like a family history of language challenges.

  • Not Speaking After Age 3

Kids learn how to speak at their own pace. While parents know which benchmarks to look for – like their child experimenting with sounding out words at around 6 months of age – they aren’t necessarily a rule.

Experts often recommend that parents wait until their kid’s 3rd birthday to start worrying about language disorders or delays if no other risk factors are present. A child struggling to verbally communicate after that point will likely have a disorder rather than being a late bloomer.

  • Having Delayed Motor Development

Another recent study found that language impairments often correlate with reaching motor milestones late, like hand-eye coordination. It’s another indicator parents can look for when comparing the possibility of their child having a language delay vs. disorder.

  • Relying on Nonverbal Communication Skills

Nonverbal communication is also known as receptive language. Children who prefer this type of communication will understand words but respond nonverbally with hand signals or other gestures. This could indicate a language delay because they know what words mean, but it also depends on their age and risk factors.

Potential Treatments for Language Delays or Disorders

If your child receives a diagnosis or needs a specialist to make a diagnosis, you can try these potential treatment paths to figure out what will help them the most.

Find a Speech-Language Pathologist

An SLP will check in with your child’s language and speech-processing abilities during your initial consultation. Although SLPs aren’t doctors, they can diagnose language disorders because they’re highly educated healthcare professionals. They’ll locate a cause for your child’s language challenges and recommend the best treatment moving forward.

An occupational therapist can also help with your child’s speech delay and often incorporate speech-language therapies into what they do. 

Schedule Speech Therapy

Therapy is the best way to understand how your child’s language delay and intelligence interact. An SLP will investigate these two factors and likely establish a therapy schedule for ongoing improvement.

Sometimes SLPs double as a patient’s speech therapist, but sometimes they recommend a separate speech therapist outside their clinic. It depends on their schedule and preferred services.

Change How Your Child Plays

You can continue their speech therapy through new games alongside your kid’s favorite activities. Play I Spy and ask them to use their chosen object in a sentence. Call out letters you see through your car’s window while you’re out for a drive. Even a simple articulation app will continue your child’s progress alongside therapy sessions.

Determine Your Child’s Next Steps

It can be challenging to determine if your child is a late bloomer when it comes to their speech or if they have a language disorder. Work alongside your child’s doctor to determine the next steps for their well-being.

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