While most babies begin babbling out their first words right around their first birthdays, up to 18 percent of children are affected by what researchers call an expressive language delay, or "late talking." For these children, speaking might not begin in any comprehensible way until well into their second or third year. Should you worry? Research published in the journal Pediatrics says not necessarily.
In the University of Western Australia study of more than 1,400 2-year-olds born between 1989 and 1991, researchers found that one of 10 kids was a late talker. Before they began speaking, late talkers tended to act more introverted and displayed more emotional problems, according to behavior surveys filled out by their mothers.
"It's no surprise that late talkers at age 2 may seem to have more behavioral difficulties," Melissa Wexler Gurfein, a speech-language pathologist in New York City who was not involved with the study, tells WebMD (via CBS News). "The frustration of not being able to communicate successfully could be a possible cause of disruptive behavior."
But the good news? Once children began to talk, they quickly made up for lost time. As the New York Times reports, researchers followed up with these kids at ages 5, 8, 10, 14, and 17, and found that the late bloomers eventually grew out of their silence—and in turn grew out of their behavioral troubles. The late-talking children didn't show any significant differences in developmental or intellectual delays come their first follow-up at age 5, and that effect continued through 17.
"When the late-talking children catch up to normal language milestones, which the majority of children do, the behavioral and emotional problems are no longer apparent," Dr. Andrew Whitehouse, an associate professor and of developmental psychopathology at the University of Western Australia in Subiaco, tells the New York Times.
What's normal when it comes to child language development in your toddler? According to the National Institutes of Health, language milestones to look for by a child's first birthday include: understanding words for common items such as "cup," "shoe," or "juice"; responding to simple requests such as "come here"; babbling by using long and short groups of sounds "tata, upup, bibib"); imitating different speech sounds; and communicating using gestures. Babies by age one may also be saying simple words such as "hi," "dog," "Dada," or "Mama."
But the take away for parents whose children haven't yet reached these milestones? "Parents should not be overly concerned that late-talking at age 2 years will result in enduring language and psychological difficulties for the child," says Dr. Whitehouse.