Late talking toddler: New research debunks the myth

July 12, 2006

New research findings from the world's largest study predicting children's late language emergence has revealed that parents are not to blame for late talking toddlers.

The LOOKING at Language project has analysed the speech development of 1766 children in Western Australia from infancy to seven years of age, with particular focus on environmental, neuro-developmental and genetic risk factors. It is the first study to look at predictors of late language.

LOOKING at Language Chief Investigator Professor Mabel Rice said the research found that 13 per cent of children at two years of age were late talkers.

Boys were three times more likely to have delayed speech development, while a child with siblings was at double the risk, as were children with a family history of late talkers.

The study found that a mother's education, income, parenting style or mental health had no impact on a child's likelihood of being a late talker.

Study Coordinator Associate Professor Kate Taylor said the findings debunked common myths about why children are late talkers.

"Some people have wrongly believed that delayed language development could be due to a child not being spoken to enough or because of some other inadequacy in the family environment," Associate Professor Taylor said.

"This is clearly not the case and I hope these findings will reassure many parents that delayed language is not a reflection on their parenting or the child's intelligence.

"What we also know from this study is that most children who are late talkers do in fact fall into the normal range of language development by the time they are seven years old."

However, she said that it is important that children who are delayed in their language development by 2 years of age are professionally evaluated by a speech pathologist and have their hearing checked.

By 24 months, children will usually have a vocabulary of around 50 words and have begun combining those words in two or three word sentences.

A second stage of the research is now looking at language development in twins.
-end-
The LOOKING at Language study is undertaken at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in partnership with Curtin University of Technology and the University of Kansas (USA).

The study is funded by a grant from the USA National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders and Healthway.

Research Australia

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