Screening children for speech problems is ineffective

November 14, 2002

Both parental concerns and screening for speech and language problems fail to identify many preschool children needing therapy, finds a study in this week's BMJ.

Researchers set out to compare the performance of two methods for identifying speech and language problems in preschool children in a deprived inner city area of London. They randomly assigned 18 health visitors to use a structured screening test and 19 to a method based on parental concerns.

Both approaches failed to detect a substantial proportion of children with severe language problems and led to over-referral of children without difficulties. The structured screening test performed as poorly as the parent led method.

Although these results apply most directly to children in other deprived areas, they suggest that using formal screening or a parent led approach to identify children with speech and language difficulties is unlikely to be effective. Little consensus about alternative approaches, however, has been reached, conclude the authors.
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BMJ

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