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My son is 3 years and 3 months old. He does not talk at all. He had an assessment when he was 2.5 years old, but the doctor would not want diagnose ASD as he is still young. He has been going for occupational therapy and speech therapy since then (~8-9 months now).

His occupational therapy trainer says she does not see a problem in therapy as he does all the activities properly. He can count to 5 using fingers, identify (~6) body parts, numbers till 9, primary colors, animals and birds, shapes. Responds to his name. Could be developmental delay but can't say it is a disorder also. Hearing test came positive and no problems were found in hearing.

However, if he wants something he takes me or wife to it. Points to things when asked to identify. Identifies me as dad and my wife as mom and points. Just that he does not speak.

One behaviour is that he is fascinated towards things that spin. He used to spin wheels and any object that can rotate a LOT. Although, with therapy this has reduced considerably but still present to about four to five times a week..

My question: In view of these points, are there any statistics on how many kids eventually start speaking and at what age (or not speak at all)?

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    Here's a post by Prof. Michael Frank at Stanford that may be of interest. He presents some data they collected about timing and content of children's first words, but they didn't measure much outside of the typical range of first words (i.e. they didn't distinguish well between kids who first spoke at 18 vs 24 vs 36 mos). – Rose Hartman Mar 21 '17 at 5:59
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    Your speech language pathologist would be great person to ask for more statistics on late talkers. He/she will be much more familiar with the range of reasons for delayed speech (everything from personality characteristics, to Specific Language Impairment, to ASD), and will be able to provide some context for where your child's case falls within that landscape of possibilities – Rose Hartman Mar 21 '17 at 6:05
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    @RoseHartman is correct and the link is good. We cannot tell you if your child is on the autism scale. Even if he is, you are doing all the things you should be. It sounds to me like your son is at the higher end of the ASD scale -- if he is even on it. Many autistic people lead great lives and marry and have interesting careers. LINK Some people wait until they have something to say. My hub told a girl to, " Marger, get in the car please." -- first sentence at 3 years of age and no single words before that. – WRX Mar 21 '17 at 13:03
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    @RoseHartman - What a great post you linked to, and quite a jumping board! Thanks. – anongoodnurse Mar 21 '17 at 13:59
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    @RoseHartman, thanks a lot for your comment. the data presents some very interesting observation although not directly addressing my question. eventually i also got to read a article from Yiyun Li. As for your second comment, unfortunately, the data is also not available from the speech therapist. just have to wait and hope for the best that one day he will start talking. – A Father Mar 22 '17 at 13:33
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As I'm sure your OT and SLP have told you, there's a lot of natural variability in when kids hit language milestones, and late language emergence is not always cause for concern.

Your child --- with no expressive vocabulary at all at 3 years --- is an unusual case, though, which means it's hard to calculate statistics on trajectories for children with his profile. His situation is rare, so we just don't know that much about it, I'm afraid.

That said, there are well-documented cases of children who are classified as "late talkers" but then eventually end up with language ability that is well within the normal range for their age --- these children are sometimes called "late bloomers" and may make up as much as 75% of late talkers (see citations here for studies on this phenomenon). Some late talkers don't end up "catching up" to their peers, though, and may eventually be diagnosed with Specific Language Impairment (if there are no signs of developmental delays in any other areas) or another diagnosis.

Here's a brief overview of several relevant studies, taken from this article (the numbers in square brackets below refer to other studied reference in the article --- to find those studies, open the article and scroll down to the references list at the bottom):

''Late bloomers'', that is, children who make good progress in language after a slow start, are well-documented in the literature. For instance, one study followed 26 children aged 2 years old, who were recruited because their parents reported that they understood complete sentences but could say only a few words 7. Five months after the initial assessment, around one-third of the children still had problems, one-third had made some improvement, and one-third were in the normal range. Another study followed 10 children who scored in the bottom 10% for expressive vocabulary at the ages of 18 to 29 months [8]. One year after initial assessment, six had 'caught up', but the remaining four still had delayed language. Similar figures were reported by Rescorla and Schwartz [9], who followed up 25 boys who had specific expressive language delay when first seen at 24 to 31 months of age. By follow-up at 3 to 4 years old, ten boys no longer had impaired language and two of these were above average in their utterance length. However, the remaining 15 children still had significant language delays. Although the proportion of late talkers who have clinically significant language impairment appears to decline with age [10], some children fail to catch up, and still have persisting problems well into middle childhood: for instance, Moyle et al. [11] reported that 37% of late talkers were receiving speech and language therapy (SALT) at 5 years of age, and Rice et al. [12] found that around 20% of late talkers had language impairment at 7 years of age. Measures of morphosyntax appear to be particularly sensitive in revealing persisting language deficits in late talkers [12,13].

So as you can see, a substantial proportion of children with late language emergence end up not having any language impairment a few years later, but that doesn't necessarily tell you anything specific about your son's case.

There are a couple important things to consider (and talk about with your OT and SLP) when trying to figure out what your son's trajectory might be like:

First, does he show impairment in any areas other than expressive language? The late talkers and late bloomers studied in the scientific literature are cases where children understand language well, they just don't speak (or have trouble speaking). These children score within normal ranges on nonverbal intelligence tests, and they lack symptoms that might indicate another disorder (such as ASD). If your son has a broader developmental delay, then the studies on late talkers, SLI, etc. are not relevant. Instead, you'll want to consider the specifics of language development for children with his diagnosis (which again, I'm sorry to say, can raise more questions than answers --- in children with ASD, for example, there is huge variability in language trajectories and eventual outcomes).

The other thing to consider is the severity of his language impairment and the trajectory of his learning over time. As many as about 15% of 30-36mos have late language emergence (see this link for citations), but many of those children do say some words, just substantially fewer than is typical at that age. So right now, your son is probably at the extreme end of the distribution for late talkers. In the publicly available data at WordBank, there are vocabulary scores from more than 5000 children 16 to 30 months old, and there are 0 children with no productive vocabulary at 30 months (suggesting that the prevalence is less than 1/5000). You can explore the data on the site, or download it to analyze on your computer. Here is a plot of deciles of the size of productive vocabulary (number of unique words spoken) from 16 to 30 months:

enter image description here

You can see that at 30 months, only 10% of children have less than about 225 words in their productive vocabulary, according to these data (note the disclaimer on this page, though, emphasizing that this may not be a representative sample of the population). I downloaded the data myself to more closely examine the children at the high end of the age range. In these data, only about 1% of children 28-30mos say fewer than 50 words.

Late bloomers typically catch up to their peers around age 3-5, so your SLP will probably be watching your son closely for improvements over the next several months. If he starts speaking, he may still have a small vocabulary for a while relative to his peers, but his rate of vocabulary growth (not just the actual size of his vocabulary) may give you an indication of whether he's likely to ever catch up or if he will retain a language impairment (see relevant citations here).

tl;dr

Your son's situation is quite rare, which is why there are no statistics available to help you predict when he might begin speaking, if at all.

If he doesn't show signs of developmental delay in areas other than speaking, then he might be a "late bloomer" (a child who starts speaking late but ends up without any remaining language impairment). If so, the literature suggests that he'll catch up quickly over the next year or two. There's no way to really know for sure, though, other than to wait and see.

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    One upvote hardly seems enough! – anongoodnurse Mar 23 '17 at 5:21
  • @RoseHartman. Thanks a lot for the information. exactly what i was wanting to see (but not hoping to see*). the information given is very detailed and i need some time to go through in detail and understand the complete information. – A Father Mar 23 '17 at 13:40
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    * The fact that my son's situation is very sparse stresses even more that i will have to continue the efforts and simply hope and wait for the day that he will start to speak. @bigbadmouse i read your other posts. Thanks for your suggestion. I'll try sign language. – A Father Mar 23 '17 at 13:50
  • @Willow, Thanks for your suggestions. can you please let me know the milestones of your child? – A Father Mar 23 '17 at 13:50
  • @AFather I also want to be sure to emphasize that the data I analyzed, and which is shown in the plot, is probably not a representative sample. The labs who collected it probably under-sampled children with developmental delays and probably over-sampled children from highly-educated, privileged parents. So this is probably an underestimate of how many kids don't yet speak at 3, but I would feel comfortable concluding that's it's still quite rare. – Rose Hartman Mar 24 '17 at 2:26
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I used to do this; teach him sign language so that you can communciate better. Make the sounds of the words as you sign.

Signing isnt hard to learn at a basic level - get a book from amazon. My two year old was learning 7 signs a day and telling us what she wanted to eat, drink, do etc. She's now speaking like a four year old.

  • I wish I'd thought to mention sign language. Not only does it give the child a way to communicate, it takes the pressure off speaking. I had many students learn to talk because suddenly they could ask for a drink (whatever) without pressure. Not only make the sounds and say the words -- compliment any and all sounds from the child. If you understand a sound to mean yes or no, or as asking for a toy, model the word and say that you understood -- way to go! – WRX Mar 22 '17 at 17:11
  • @AFather You're welcome. We as parents also find the signing useful even now to communicate in busy places where we cannot hear each other but can see each other (eg ham, not cheese, coffee times 2, need napkins). My little one went from four sort-of sounds to a vocabulary (when we stopped counting) of 1000 words in just six months and we attribute this to signing (and saying at the same) . – bigbadmouse Mar 24 '17 at 12:02

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