3 year old not talking

Is your 3 year old not talking yet? Let’s find out why

Posted on
March 28, 2023
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Is your 3 year old not talking yet? We recommend to chat to your GP or a Speech and Language Therapist to assess their current communication skills. Every child works at their own pace, however, early intervention can be very beneficial at this age.

Read on to understand more about possible causes for a speech delay and if it’s possible for your child to recover from a speech delay.

What is the main cause of speech delay in toddlers?

There are a multitude of reasons for why a toddler may have a speech delay. This can be due to difficulty with hearing, which is why an audiological assessment should always precede a speech and language assessment.

There are other factors that can contribute to speech delay in toddlers that include:

  1. Unknown cause: the child just has a speech delay, and exists on its own. There may be no family history and nothing else occurring simultaneously that explains it.
  2. Neurological complications: such as cerebral palsy can cause a speech delay in a child, due to the components of the brain that are being impacted that can also cause speech and language delays
  3. Lack of stimulation: a child may be not exposed to books enough, and in our new age, may be playing on the screen too much. This can impact the development of speech and language skills on time.
  4. Developmental delays: such as ASD and intellectual disabilities will cause speech and language delays.
  5. Oral motor development: if the oral motor mechanism is impacted, and articulators (tongue, lips, jaw) aren’t in appropriate form, a toddler will have difficulty speaking. Apraxia of Speech is just one cause of this, but muscle weaknesses can be due to many factors.
  6. They may be a late talker, and there may not be a delay. Early intervention is still important if developmental milestones aren’t being met.

3 year old not talking but understands
3 year old not talking but understands

Is it normal for a 3 year old to have speech delay?

Many 3 year olds have speech and language delays! Typically, at this age:

  1. Language: the child can use about 1,000 words, call themselves by name, repeat songs/nursery rhymes, tell stories, and produce 3-4 word sentences incorporating action words (verbs), descriptive words (adjectives) and nouns (ie. Girl pushed the ball). At this age, the child should also start initiating questions and telling stories.
  2. Speech: the child can use a variety of sounds. If the child is having difficulty with earlier sounds such as p,b,m, t, d, k, and g or both familiar and unfamiliar listeners can’t understand what they are saying, this is cause for concern. Additionally, a child may exhibit stuttering which will require an SLP to assess for further understanding.

Can a child recover from speech delay?

Absolutely! Alongside a Speech and Language Therapist, you can help your child with their speech delays. This can also be done at home with your child as carryover.

How can I support my toddler with a speech delay?

Talk to your child!

  • Look at books together, especially wordless picture books that can allow them to tell stories as well as work on speech sounds.
  • Make sure you are modelling simple phrases in speech, so that the child can learn words and produce sentences without being overstimulated with too much language coming at them.
  • You can use a slow rate of speech to allow your child to use the same rate of speech when speaking. This can help when there is reduced intelligibility.
  • Make sure that you play with your toddler and follow their lead as they speak or use gestures to show you  things they are doing. You can elaborate on what they are seeing and saying,  and encourage them to point to things. Imitating what they are doing is always helpful.
  • Additionally, always hesitate and use wait time when speaking with your child or asking questions so they can take their ideas and put them together in real time. The power of the pause is invaluable.
  • Using their favourite nursery rhymes to reinforce speech and language can really help them along!

It is important to use communication as described in all natural settings - from the home to the store, to a play-date. Crossing contexts will strengthen generalisation of speech and language skills. Also, remember that frustration will exist as your child tries to communicate, but struggles to get you to understand due to speech delays. If you want to learn more about every day strategies and crossing contexts, sign up to our online programs for free here.

Can a child recover from speech delay?

This is why speech professionals are at your service! They are there to intervene early and work on strategies/interventions with your child that can help them “catch up". Depending on why the child has the speech and language delay will also determine how quickly they will catch up or in certain circumstances may not be able to fully catch up - due to neurological and developmental delays. In spite of developmental delays, there is always room for improvement.

It is important that parents/carers and the SLP to become partners in helping the child. Practice in everyday environments needs to translate to natural environments. And as they always say, practice makes perfect! Let's find your child's voice together.

How to help 3-year-old with speech delay references:

Delayed Speech or Language Development - Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Language and Speech Disorders in Children

Typical Speech and Language Development

Sharon Baum
Clinical Director, United States and M.A. CCC-SLP
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Is it normal for a 3 year old not to talk?
Every child works at their own pace. If your child is not talking yet, chat to your GP or a Speech and Language Therapist so that they can assess your child’s communication skills. There may be many different causes to your speech delay. For example, they may just be a late talker. Read more in our blog.
What causes speech delay in 3 year old?
A speech delay can be a symptom of many different disorders. These can include hearing loss, autism, cerebral palsy, and expressive or receptive language disorder. It’s recommended to get a speech and language assessment to better understand your child’s communication development.
Will my 3 year old ever talk?
By 3 years old, your child should use 1,000 words, produce 3 to 4 word sentences, and start initiating questions and telling stories. Unfamiliar listeners can understand your toddler most of the time.