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There are other, more serious conditions that can cause a child to be a “late talker”, says Mr Goh Huai Zhi, Senior Speech Therapist at the Speech Therapy Department, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group. For example, autistic children and premature babies tend to be at greater risk of delayed language development.

Genetic factors can also contribute to slower speech and language development, as can psychological conditions. For instance, selective mutism is a condition where children who are normally capable of speech are unable to do so in specific situations. But it is difficult to know for sure if psychological conditions are the cause as children develop verbal skills at different speeds. It may well be that a particular child simply needs more time to learn to speak.

Parents worried that their infants might have delayed verbal skills should consult a paediatrician to determine an appropriate course of action or therapy.

Parents should let children develop their speech naturally and without pressure

At home, parents can make use of many everyday opportunities to help their children pick up speech. For instance, daily activities like showers or meals are a good time for children to pick up verbal communication skills from their parents. Or they can try to find out what interests their child, and use these things to encourage them to speak, said Mr Goh.

The idea is for parents and children to learn naturally, and parents should not put too much pressure on their children. Otherwise, said Mr Goh, this might have the opposite effect – and cause the child to clam up instead.

Ways to encourage your kids

  • When your child starts to babble, repeat the sounds your child makes. This will encourage him to babble more. Keep this up for a fun “conversation” with your child.
  • Children are always curious about the world around them, so look out for non-verbal signals, such as what he is looking at or what he is holding. Use such opportunities to engage your child’s interest in verbal communication.
  • Get your child to repeat words before you give him an item of interest. For example, during snack time, get your child to say words like “mum mum” or “cookie” before you give him the biscuit.
  • Children learn through imitation, so interact and play with them to encourage them to talk. Don’t leave them alone with an iPad or in front of the TV.
  • Avoid long, complex sentences. Use short, simple sentences, but stress specific words. For example, when you say, “this is a blue ball”, put more emphasis on the words “blue ball”.

Ref: S13