Why parents should not “Wait and See”

“My first one didn’t talk until he was 4 and he’s fine now!”

“My husband is a quiet person, I think my child is just taking after him.”

“We went to the doctor because of his delayed speech and the doctor told us to come back in 6 months if he’s still not talking.”

If your child is experiencing delays in speech and language, it is not uncommon to hear people suggest that you just “wait and see”. In our Malaysian society, I see and hear so much “wait and see” from parents and I have also heard parents reporting that their GPs have been the ones to give them this advice.

This is a risky way to navigate atypical delayed speech and language in children and will delay referrals that a child may need. It is hard to determine if a child is not talking because they do not want to, or because they haven’t acquired the skills. But many toddlers who do not meet their language milestones before the age of 36 months, do not catch up without intervention. If the child has not yet begun speaking age appropriately towards late childhood, it is much harder for them to catch up.


Early intervention is key for taking advantage of the plasticity of young children’s brains. It is easier for children to acquire new skills and progress steadily when they are less overwhelmed in other areas, which tends to be before they begin formal schooling. Decades of rigorous research have shown that children’s earliest experiences play a pivotal role in their brain development. The cost of intervention is also less when it is provided earlier rather than later, because the way our brains are programmed to learn and develop earlier in life makes therapy more effective.


Therapists notice that parents often tend to wait until their child is flagged by a teacher at school before seeking any form of intervention. However, by that time, the child will most likely have a harder time catching up to their peers and will now have to work on their speech or language skills while already learning many new skills at school. This can prove to be quite overwhelming for the child. 


Children should be equipped with the skills they need to thrive in school, and if they are not on par with their peers, the child will fall behind and struggle to close the gap as time goes on. It is significantly harder to intervene in primary school with the demands of school and beyond being so much more complex.


While it is true that all children develop along their own timeline, it is crucial that we ensure that our children have the skills they need before entering school. Therefore, if you are concerned with your child’s developmental trajectory, consult a pediatrician for a referral to a speech therapist.

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