No Words: My Toddler And Expressive Language Disorder


Today is the day. This is the post that finally addresses one of the hardest hurdles my little family and I have navigated thus far: Bubba’s speech delay. Really, it’s nothing to whine about — I am aware that a lot of families face much tougher issues involving their child’s development — but I hope our story will shed light on toddler speech delays, and help other parents who may be seeking answers.

My son is just over 2.5 years-old, has been recently diagnosed with “Expressive Language Disorder” — meaning, he understands language better than he is able to communicate.  This is clear to most people who are around him. From early-on, he has understood most commands, and would react to what we would say, but just had very little to contribute. Instead, he chose to speak in “jargon” or “gibberish,” and sort of had this adorable made-up language of his own. This was cute, until he turned 2, and we realized that he should be communicating with actual words.

Seeking Answers
At his 2-year check-up, Bubba’s doctor did not seem worried. She recommended we wait until he’s 2.5, and if he has not progressed, contact our local Regional Center chapter to assess his language and development (fine motor skills, etc.).  We were fine with this plan — in fact, I stopped worrying for a few months…until his preschool offered a free speech screening for toddlers.

I thought signing up for this free screening would be a great way to gauge where he was at, not truly understanding the quality of the assessment, and genius marketing strategy behind it. Of course, when I received a half-sheet of paper with check marks and technical terms, basically indicating that my son was “severely delayed” and that I should call their offices ASAP, I panicked. I questioned my judgement as a mom, and yes, I cried.

I called immediately to speak with the therapist who evaluated my toddler son, and was prompted to leave a voice mail. I spent the next TWO DAYS waiting to hear back, and obsessing over my son’s delay — Is he mildly autistic? When will he catch up? How long will we be in therapy? Have I failed my son? I followed up on day 3, and finally got to speak with the therapist. She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know (he doesn’t use words, he’s fidgety, he uses “jargon,” etc.), but she was concerned with his “tick.” What tick? Apparently, my animal-loving son was doing impressions (a sheep impression, to be exact), and she worried this was a tick. I assured her that he does all animal sounds, and can actually say animal names. She laughed, and dismissed the “tick” diagnosis. Cool.

We discussed the fact that he didn’t sit still (HELLO? A stranger takes a 2 year-old from his classroom, and tries to get him to sit and talk to her for all of 10 minutes, and wonders why he won’t cooperate?), and finally, we discussed the fact that he doesn’t freely speak or seem to have much vocabulary (which is 100% true). In the end, she highly recommended I start bringing him to her office. She doesn’t accept my insurance, but can give me a “deal” of $60 a session (out-of-pocket). No, thanks. I booked a follow-up appointment with Bubba’s doc that day.

Getting A Second Opinion
Bubba’s doctor sort of laughed off the evaluation, and reminded me that he is still not 2.5, and to give him time. She recommended, if anything, we check his hearing, and if we are still concerned, call Regional Center for a full in-home evaluation that happens to be free — with no strings attached. I made both calls. I was happy to learn that my son’s hearing is fine.

Not even a week later, I had a Regional Center rep at my door. She watched me feed Bubba lunch, she played and spoke with him a bit, and watched him play alone. She had a lot of questions for me –questions that were clear and made sense. At the end of the 1.5 hour eval session, she told me that she believes he is a completely normal toddler boy, that just needs a “boost” when it comes to “expressive speech,” but would present my case to the “experts” and get back to me with a recommended course of action.

One week later, we were approved to test at a speech therapy center near our home, and I was told that if we were granted therapy, RC would pick up the bill until our insurance contacts us (might take several months due to a wait list). Awesome! All of these services had been speedy and FREE. We met with a therapist, and Bubba was diagnosed with “Expressive Language Disorder” — ranking at a 14 month-old’s level when it came to expressive language abilities.  We were given a goal of two 30-minute sessions per week, and daily practice at home for the next year.  She believes this would be all that’s needed to get him on-track. I brought up some of the concerns the other therapist had, but was quickly reassured that he is missing nothing more than the ability to express the vocabulary he has locked in his little brain. Regional Center facilitated the doctor and insurance approval process, and one month later, we were attending our first session. Can you tell how appreciative I am of Regional Center of Orange County?? They rock.

Bubba mastering the flash cards in therapy, and having fun playing with Mr. Potato Head.

Bubba mastering the flash cards in therapy, and having fun playing with Mr. Potato Head.

Where Are We Today?

Bubba has just started verbally mimicking others (including people on TV, the radio, and even Siri). He is currently working on putting 2-3 words together, and saying “want” before a requested object, or “please” after a requested object.  He’s using the words “in” and “out” to describe actions, and he is verbally identifying people, animals, objects, and actions on flash cards.  He has been attending speech therapy twice a week, for less than a month, and is already using words I never knew he had. He LOVES going to “speech class,” and looks forward to playing with toys, talking like a “big boy,” and getting stickers at the end of the session.

To be honest, he seemed to have really blossomed right before ST began! Was his doctor right — a developmental leap at 2.5? Was it preschool? PBS Kids? Mom and Dad pushing a bit more?  Whatever the reason, we are now breathing a sigh of relief, and enjoying his explosion in speech and boost in confidence.

My Two Cents
It’s easy to get caught up in what your kid “should” be doing at this age. Everyone from relatives, to friends, to parenting magazines love to inform you that by 2, your child should be putting sentences together, and if he is not, something is wrong. Please don’t let these well-meaning folks put you into a panic. You and your child’s doctor probably know your tot the best. If you or the doctor are concerned, seek an evaluation; and if you don’t feel comfortable with the results, seek another! Don’t live in denial — being proactive is a good thing — but don’t beat yourself up, or take everyone’s opinion too seriously. This goes double for my reader-friends with kids under 2! Just give the kid a chance to come into her own.  Every kid develops at his or her own pace. And guess what? If your child does have a delay of any sort, there are SO many wonderful (oftentimes FREE) resources available! Be strong, be proactive, be optimistic, and encourage your bright little one in every way possible. <3


  1. Sarah says:

    My son is 2 1/2 and we just started speech therapy with him because like your son he is expressive language delayed. It is so nice to read that there are other people who feel the same. I was feeling so depressed that I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t talk when there were kids younger than him speaking in full sentences. And I hated when people tell me “oh so and so didn’t talk until they were 3 so he is fine” I had to smile on the outside but on the inside I was screaming I don’t care about so and so, this is MY son. So thank you!

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Sarah!

      Thank you for the comment — I am so happy to hear that we are not alone in this! It’s been a journey (as you probably know), but ST has done WONDERS for Bubba! Just wait and see for yourself. It’s been almost 5 months since we started ST, and my son is speaking in full sentences, and talking non-stop! I plan to write a follow-up post, so thank you for reminding me. Keep me posted on your son’s progress! You are an amazing and attentive parent for catching the delay, and doing something about it. Trust your instincts! Stay in touch.

  2. Sarah says:

    Thanks for responding! We are just at a few months in and we just started 2 word sentences! It isn’t consistently, but we are getting there! I love not feeling alone in this struggle. I wish there were more people like you who support us rather than just dismissing the problem. (Feel free to email me too :))

    • Lauren says:

      That’s fantastic! You are definitely not alone — many people either brush it off (oh, he’s a BOY, so he’ll be late to talk) OR they label them as being on the Autism spectrum. My husband and I knew that both scenarios were not the case with our son, and it seems like you felt the same way. I am so glad we didn’t wait for him to “outgrow” it. Even if he would have caught up on his own, I know it would have been harder on him. Keep in touch! 🙂

      • Sarah says:

        You have no idea how happy this makes me. I feel like you are my friend in this all and I don’t know you! We just did our 6 month assessment and we have 50 words! I am also glad I didn’t wait for him to grow out of it. I am so thankful for your post

        • Lauren says:

          Sarah, that’s AWESOME! Congrats to you and your little guy! Our kids are so bright. It’s amazing how much they know–but sometimes cannot express. I would love to keep in touch. Keep me posted on his progress. Thank you for stopping by our little blog!

  3. Sarah says:

    We are in the process of potty training and I was apprehensive about it since he has so few words, but potty is one he can say 🙂 and we are starting to get 2-3 word sentences that make sense! We found out that we can continue with the speech at the school in February after he turns 3. Huge relief that he can still get the services and not miss out on any until he goes to school in the fall next year.

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