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What to Expect: Speech & Language Assessment for Toddlers

If your toddler is late to start talking, I highly recommend making an appointment with a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) for an assessment. As I have mentioned before on this blog, early intervention is very beneficial, and there are often long waitlists to see an SLP, which is why it’s better to go earlier rather than later. The SLP will be able to determine your child’s risk for ongoing language difficulties, and provide specific language strategies that you can implement at home to help your child.

I’ve had conversations with acquaintances in the past who asked me questions about their child’s language development, but when I mentioned that they could book an appointment with an SLP, they were hesitant and said they wanted to wait until they were older. I totally get the reluctancy to take that step into making the appointment. You want your child to just start talking on their own and don’t want to go through unnecessary appointments if it isn’t needed. I thought if people knew more about what the first session is like with an SLP, they may be more open to making an appointment earlier and not delaying.


How to make a referral

This process varies depending on the area that you live. As I am in British Columbia, Canada, the process here is to call your health authority and refer your child, or your family doctor can make the referral for you. Speech and Language services are free for children under 5, so you don’t need to worry about the cost, but it can take several months to get in for an appointment. I usually tell parents that if they are concerned, it’s doesn’t hurt to refer their child, and if they start talking in the months leading up to the appointment, they can cancel it if it isn’t needed.

If you are in the U.S., check out this website for information about making a referral:

If you are waiting for a long time for an appointment and are wanting to see an SLP sooner, you can look for a private SLP. This would be fee for service, or you can use your insurance benefits if you have them.

Here are some links to find a professional in Canada:

British Columbia:



If your area isn’t listed, you can also just google speech language pathologist and the city you live in.

The initial appointment

I’m going to describe the initial appointment at the clinic that I work at. The details will vary based on the area you live, but this should give you a general idea. The appointment is usually about an hour long. The room will be set up with a variety of toys for your child to explore. I like to give the child time to warm up and get comfortable in the room while I chat with the parent. The exact activities and assessments administered in the session will depend on the child’s age, and the preferences of the clinician.

For children under 3, I usually do informal assessment, meaning that I get my information by asking the parents specific questions, observing the child, and asking them to do specific things if they warm up to me (e.g. “feed the bear” while they are playing, or asking “which duck is big”). As SLPs, we recognize that we are only seeing the child for a short period of time in a new environment, so they may be behaving differently than they typically would at home. That’s why a lot of the information about the child’s development will come from the parent.

The SLP may also administer a formal assessment, which is a test that compares a child’s abilities to the abilities of children their age. If the child is under 3, this is likely a questionnaire that is asked to the parents. If the child is older, this may be an assessment that involves pointing to pictures, or finishing a sentence about a picture.


areas of assessment

Throughout the session, the SLP will typically assess the following areas of communication for late talkers:

  • Receptive Language (what your child understands)
  • Expressive Language (what your child says, and the gestures they use)
  • Social Communication (eye contact, their awareness of their environment, interaction with others)
  • Play Skills (how they play with toys and with people)
  • Speech/Articulation (the sounds the child makes)

All of this information will help determine where the child is in their language development, the risk of ongoing difficulties and recommendations.

THe results

The SLP will share her conclusions with you. They will let you know if your child is behind or not, and the next steps. Feel free to ask the clinician any questions that come up! This is your time to get answers that you have been wondering about. If your child is behind in their speech and language, they will likely provide you with some strategies that you can implement at home. There also may be the option of parent workshops or direct therapy with your child.


In conclusion, if you have any concerns about your child’s speech and language, I definitely recommend being proactive and making an appointment with an SLP. The assessment is just an hour session where your child gets to play with lots of new toys. You’ll also be given some strategies to help increase your child’s communication!

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