Why the Wait & See Approach Outdated for Determining Developmental Delays

speech delays

Guest blogger Shannon Briggs (student SLP) of SLP Corner

It is not uncommon to hear people suggest that you can just “wait and see” if your child is experiencing delays in areas such as speech or language. However, recent research by Singleton (2018) asserts that the “wait and see” approach for children’s speech and language is outdated and a risky way to navigate atypical developmental patterns in children’s speech and language.

They explain that a wait and see approach not only delays referrals that a child may require for further examinations but that in fact most late-talkers do not catch up to their same-aged peers in all areas of development (e.g. social skills, school readiness, academic achievements, and possibly a life long disability). Moreover, Singleton (2018) reports that over 80% of toddlers who failed language screenings at 30 months were not recovered even by age 6, and often these children acquire a diagnosis of having a language disorder in elementary school.

I recall working with an SLP who explained to parents that early intervention is key for taking advantage of the plasticity of young children’s brains. She also mentioned that it is easier for children to acquire new information and improve functions in specific areas of challenge when they are less overwhelmed in other areas, which tends to be before they begin school.

Often parents wait until their child is flagged by a teacher at school as having a speech or language issue before beginning any intervention. However, the child then suffers from being on a lengthy waitlist, and will also have a harder time catching up to their peers at school, as they now have to learn speech among the busy curriculum at school. This can prove to be quite overwhelming to the student. Moreover, Paul, Norbury and Gosse (2018) explain that children learn to read until they eventually begin to read to learn early on in elementary school. If children are not yet reading when their peers are making this switch, the child will begin to fall behind and will struggle to close this gap. Therefore, if you are concerned at all with your child’s developmental milestone trajectory, it is always better to intervene sooner than later!

  • Paul, R., Norbury, C. & Gosse, C. (2017). Language disorders: From infancy through adolescence (5th edition).St. Louis: Mosby.
  • Singleton, N.C. (2018). Late talkers: why the wait and see approach is outdated. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 65(1), 13-29.
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