Late-talking twins

Holly posted this on the suggestions thread: “My 21-month-old b/g twins were 6 weeks early, but have hit big milestones (eating solids, crawling, walking, etc.) generally on target. They are, however, a little slow on speech. We have always spoken/read to them as adults, and their speech comprehension is very good. Both have had some struggles with ear infections, and my daughter is scheduled for an adenoidectomy soon. I have read in various twin literature that speech delay is not unusual with twins, but at what point would you recommend having them tested for speech delay?”

It’s true that at least mild speech delays seem to be more common in twins—some believe they have each other to “talk to,” and don’t need to learn Mommy’s language! I’m not sure that’s necessarily true, but you should certainly see if your children are in the usual range of speech skills for their age.

By age two, most kids will be able to speak at least 50 words, and will start to string together short phrases. Though many of their “words” won’t be pronounced correctly, even a stranger should be able to understand their speech at least 50% of the time. And most two year olds can understand most of what’s said to them, including short commands.

For your children, what may be more important than what their skills are right now is how they’re progressing from month to month. If their skills seem a little weaker than other kids their age, but they’re definitely making progress from month to month, than it would be very reasonable to give them some gentle encouragement and see how they do my age two. That’s a good time to review their progress with your pediatrician. But if at this point they’re behind, and you are not seeing progress, you ought to see your pediatrician and discuss a speech therapy referral now.

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9 Comments on “Late-talking twins”

  1. Allison Says:

    Can I just add…. ;) As a BTDT with twins, one of whom was slightly speech delayed and one of whom has a speech disorder, any child who does not “own” (meaning, has the word in their regular speech and uses it spontaneously) 25 words by 18 months should at least be evaluated. You can go through your state’s early intervention office, and the eval is free. So no harm done. Worst case, they say your child is fine and you wasted several hours of your life setting up and attending the evaluation. Best case, your child is delayed, or disordered, and the earlier you start speech therapy the better.

    Just BTW, my “delayed” twin was done with speech therapy after just a few months. But even my “disordered” twin (he’s got apraxia) has been released from speech therapy after just under 2 years. His speech is still a little immature, and his functional speech (his every day conversational skills) is probably about 6 months behind, but it’s getting there. Withouth therapy, he’d probably be completely not understandable right now and would probably have behavioral issues.

    My advice is that if your mommy’s gut is telling you it needs to get checked, go ahead and get it checked. You’ll only ever regret it if you didn’t……..

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  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    Allison makes a good point about “gut feelings.” They’re often right.

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  3. Veronica Says:

    I have a question. My 5 and a half year old son ( a twin, whose sister speaks much better) writes relatively well and creates imaginative and long sentence on paper but is having trouble with meaningful sentences. He can’t seem to relay his thought verbally. It almost feels like he has too many words in his mind and he just can’t formulate a coherent clear and grammatically correct chain. We encourage him to speak anyway he can. He did start speaking later then his twin sister and we originally thought this issue was due to both the twin situation and the fact that we are a bilingual home but his issue is the same in both languages now. He understands everything but his speech is sporadic. What’s wrong? What kind of specialist will help?

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  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Veronica, your son ought to be evaluated by a speech therapist. You may be able to get this done through his school, or through a therapist in your community. If you’re unsure of how to proceed, you should make an appointment to discuss your concerns with your son’s physician. Best of luck.

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  5. Lana Says:

    My 23 month 1 week old twin boys have just today began working with early intervention in our county. We are to start teaching ourselves and the boys sign language. We wonder though, will this delay their speech even more? They know and understand the words we are saying to them, they just won’t say the words themselves.

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  6. Dr. Roy Says:

    Lana, using signs will not delay their expressive communication skills as long as you’re working with a speech therapist who is also addressing speech. That is, it’s best to work on both practical skills to reduce frustration (like signing) and traditional speech skills at the same time, not just one or the other. Best of luck!

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  7. tonya Says:

    I have to tell u.. I thought I wAs alone. I have 31/2 year old boy girl twins and I can only understand him 50% of the time.his sister understands him much better.I would have never linked his speech to being a twin and am happy to known there are other concerned mothers of twins out there.thank u for this site as it is very helpful and encouraging to us.I think now I have a better understanding of how he feels and why to do for him.god bless you all

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  8. MissL Says:

    21 month old twins no talking is a non issue. For most kids, time is all they need. If they seem to understand everything you say and are responsive in other ways, i wouldn’t worry (not until after 3 years of age, and even then, i wouldn’t panic). There is a lot of talk of “early intervention” if twins don’t talk by 2 years/2 .5 yrs of age. What rubbish. Nothing but money-making motivation by so called professionals, eager to label kids that don’t need labelling, in order to make a quick buck.

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  9. Dr. Roy Says:

    MissL, I would not be so dismissive of early intervention to help late talkers. While it is true that, as you say, “most” non-talking 21 month olds will improve with time, some will not. A proper evaluation will help determine who can genuinely benefit from therapy, versus who will probably do just fine with watchful waiting.

    There is overwhelming evidence that earlier intervention for developmentally challenged children, especially those along the autism spectrum, is both more effective and more cost-effective. I am sorry if you feel that professionals involved in early intervention for these disorders are only in it for the money. That has not been my experience.

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