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Sunday 16th June 2019

Late talkers fare no worse than peers

5th July 2011

Parents should not worry if their children do not learn to talk earlier than other children, according to a recent Australian study, the first of its kind.


The researchers found that late talkers did not seem to be different from early talkers in terms of how they eventually developed.

Previous studies had hinted that late talkers may be more depressed than early talkers, or that they may have problems with aggression.

For the study, the researchers acquired data on nearly 1,500 toddlers whose parents had filled out a language development survey.

The survey related to the spontaneous use of words.

A typical toddler has a vocabulary of a few hundred words, but there is a lot of room for variation, and the researchers classified one in 10 children they studied as late talkers.

While 13% of the late talkers had seemed shy, sad, or underactive, about 8% of children who learned to talk early also had these problems.

By age five, the researchers reckon that such differences vanished altogether.

Though the researchers continued to follow the children until age 17, they did not notice any problems or differences between late talkers and early talkers.

Not all researchers agreed about how the findings should be interpreted.

Julia Irwin, a language development researcher at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Connecticut, said that while she felt the data gathered for the recent study was reassuring, she believed that parents still needed to pay attention to other troubling symptoms of language and reading problems.

Lead researcher Andrew Whitehouse, of the University of Western Australia in Perth, said he believed that most of the behavioural problems among late-talking toddlers had to do with not being able to communicate their feelings fully.

He said that the frustration of not being able to communicate was not necessarily a sign of depression or attention deficit disorder (ADD), and that on the contrary there was good evidence that most late-talking children would catch up to the language skills of other children.

However, parents of school-aged children should seek the attention of a specialist, if their children still do not talk.

Whitehouse recommended that parents played with their children, talked with them, read to them and interacted with them at their level, if they wanted to stimulate the development of language.


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