Researchers of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania claim that a simple test which identifies toddlers struggling with speech could prevent them from falling behind their peers. The test could pick up on problems in children as young as two.
By comparing their child’s speaking ability against a checklist of 310 basic words, parents could determine whether they were at risk of language-related difficulties that last into adulthood.
A study has indicated that children who could speak less than 50 words on the list at the age of two were more likely to be behind their peers in their vocabulary, grammar and reading ability by the time they were 17. Researchers said that identifying “late talkers” early could allow parents to intervene at a young age with language coaching and other methods proven to help speed up children’s development.
Professor Leslie Rescorla, of the university, said that the checklist of words could highlight an “enduring relative weakness in the area of early language development and hence later language skills.”
Children late to develop speech are at higher risk of conditions such as autism and other developmental problems. However, about 80% of those behind at age 2 are just “late bloomers”. Children who are still behind by the ages of 30-36 months may need language therapy. Research by Professor Rescorla suggested that failing to intervene could leave late talkers lagging behind their peer group.
By the time they were 4 or 5, most of the children had caught up and developed an average range of vocabulary, but they remained slightly behind peers from the same background in vocabulary, grammar and reading throughout their school years, suggesting that their late speech development had put them at a disadvantage.
The word test can be completed in 10 minutes, and experts can tell quickly from the results whether a child’s speaking ability is poor for their age.
Parents are asked to check off every word on the list that their child has said spontaneously, and list five examples of word combinations that they have used.
A child with average speaking ability would have 150-200 of the words on the list in their vocabulary, while late talkers typically have about 25. These are likely to be limited to the most basic words on the list, such as “mummy” or “no”, rather than more complex words like “telephone” or “elephant”.
If the delay in speech development isn’t related to another condition, such as autism, research suggests that speech therapy can be effective in helping children develop their vocabulary.
Professor Rescorla said that some children need to hear words more times in order to learn them, while others would benefit from being talked to directly, rather than learning language by watching television. Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, she said: “Children really need to have people talk to them in order for them to acquire language.”
Twenty words that most children should be able to use by the age of two include:
- Thank you
To learn more about autism, autism spectrum disorder and Asperger’s syndrome, click here.
Recent research has found that babies as young as six months can understand language.
Written exclusively for The Life Dept | Live Longer | 20 February 2012
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