Why does my child have trouble talking and what can I do to help?

People often think they are alone in having a child who can’t talk. 1.2 million people in Australia have communication disabilities and 11% of those are children. Children and older people are more likely to have severe communication disabilities and also, have an unmet need for formal assistance with communication.

There are many reasons why a child may not be achieving his or her communication milestones. However, many of these children will go on to use words as they learn and grow, and others may use a combination of words, signs, and symbols. Many parents feel worried about their child’s speech. It’s good to know that there are lots of things you can do to help your child and that there are hundreds of supports available to help kids communicate.

Reasons children can struggle to talk

There are many reasons why some children need communication supports to help them get their message across. Some kids are just slow starters who will catch up. Others may experience some of the following:

  • Developmental delay / Intellectual disability
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Physical disabilities
  • Brain injury
  • Sensory impairments (Has your child had their hearing checked?)
  • Selective mutism (Talking in some contexts, but not others. For example, not talking at school or kinder)
  • Specific language disorders

Every child is unique and their language learning will look different and depend on:

  • the supports they have
  • their strengths and interests
  • their cognitive ability (ability to learn)
  • whether they have other associated developmental disabilities.

It is impossible to predict how much language a child will learn, which is why we need to ensure they communicate the best they can in the present, while providing opportunities to develop further.

What you can do

There are many thing you can do as a parent to support your child’s communication development.  Here are some ideas:

  • Talk to your child.  A child needs to hear lots of spoken language in order to learn to speak.
  • Do fun things together – read books, bake cakes, go to the park – whatever you do, spend time interacting and talking with your child, without putting pressure on them to talk.
  • Read stories and look at books together – sharing books is a great way of building your child’s communication skills.
  • Build communication into everyday routines (see bath time example below).
  • Accept and celebrate every attempt your child makes to communicate.  Don’t worry if the pronunciation is not quite right, or if they forget to say “please”.  Your child needs to learn that he or she can be a successful communicator
  • Use pictures and gestures to help your child to understand and show you what he or she means.
  • Ask for help – if you are worried about your child’s communication development, talk to your Maternal and Child Health Nurse, teacher or doctor, and ask for a referral to a speech pathologist.
For example – Bathtime!
Here are some communication ideas you can try at bath time:

  • Talk about hot and cold – use exaggerated gestures and facial expressions for emphasis
  • Hold out two bath toys and let your child reach for the one they want
  • Sing a song about body parts while you are washing them (e.g. heads, shoulders knees and toes)
  • Cover your child in bubbles.  Pause lots of times to give him the chance to ask
    for more!
  • Use a visual schedule to help your child to understand what comes next (wash your body, wash your hair, play with your toys, hop out, get dry etc.).
  • See how many times you can use the sign for “wash” or “wet” or “duck”
Bath: Mime washing the part of the body or object. (Natural Gesture – Mime the action)


Duck: Place tips of dominant index, middle fingers and thumb. Place formation in front of chin and open and close formation, twice.

If you would like more information about our services or to get in touch, visit www.scopeaust.org.au/contact-scope. Or call us on 1300 4 72673.