Do you know someone whose four-year-old child is not yet talking? Perhaps the child could say a handful of words on command, and may even be speaking two-word duos to communicate, such as “more food” or “need that.”

But for all practical purposes, this four-year-old is not talking.

Most preschoolers by age three can actually carry on conversations. Many two-year-olds can speak in full sentences, though may not be able to hold a simple conversation.

Younger two-year-olds have been known to “sing” an entire song or recite the whole alphabet.

So when a four-year-old can’t do any of these, it’s quite concerning.

My four-year-old nephew is unable to string together a complete sentence. I’ve never heard him say more than two words, such as “I want milk” or “Where’s my train?”

He blurts out unintelligible sounds that often, his mother (my sister-in-law) can interpret. He’s unable to count to 10.

My father can get him to repeat a number, one at a time, such as “two,” or “five,” but when my father says, “Say one-two” or “Say three-four,” the boy is unable to do this.

His speech isn’t clear, either. “More food” sounds like “Moe foo.”

He tests negative for hearing loss. His mother told me that another test showed he’s negative for autism.

Things Not to Say to Parent

Whose Four-Year-Old Cannot Talk

• “Does he have Down syndrome?” My other brother actually wondered this, even though our nephew lacks any physical features suggestive of Down syndrome.

• “Have you had him tested for mental retardation?”

• “I bet his baby sister (or brother) will be talking before him!”

• “You must not be talking to him enough.”

• “Maybe you do too much for him and he feels he doesn’t need to talk.”

• “Were there complications during his birth?”

• “It’s God’s plan.”

• “There’s a reason for everything.”

• “Hey, I’m betting he’ll one day wake up talking a mile a minute and then you won’t know how to shut him up.”

• “My kids were talking full-force at two and a half.”

If you know a four-year-old who can’t talk, but otherwise looks normal and exhibits normal motor control, it’s a safe bet to assume that he or she WILL eventually be conversational.

An issue is WHEN the full command of speech will have finally arrived. But a bigger issue is WHY there’s this delay.

IS there brain damage? The older a child gets, the more obvious any brain damage is.

You can’t always tell how bright or dim a four-year-old is by watching him play with a toy train set.

But if he takes apart a toy dump truck to see how it works and then puts it back together perfectly…we can assume he’s bright, even if he’s not yet talking.

Here’s another thing never to say to parent whose four-year-old child isn’t talking yet:

“You must be SO worried.” This comment puts the parent on the spot and makes them feel they must then follow up on your assessment. They usually do not want to do this.

You now know some things not to say to parents whose four-year-old child cannot talk in the true sense of the word. I might add that there are a few genetic conditions (like Angelman syndrome) that prevent language acquisition altogether, but he doesn’t have these.