New Research Suggests Three Profiles of Communication Delays in Early Childhood

By Hentges, Rochelle; fellow, Postdoctoral et al. | The Canadian Press, July 4, 2019 | Go to article overview

New Research Suggests Three Profiles of Communication Delays in Early Childhood


Hentges, Rochelle, fellow, Postdoctoral, Calgary, University of, The Canadian Press


New research suggests three profiles of communication delays in early childhood

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Rochelle Hentges, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Calgary

Parenting books, magazines and apps are filled with tools to help parents keep track of their child's developmental milestones. Parents are often particularly concerned about their child's language and communication skills. But what does it mean if your child doesn't meet these early milestones?

New research published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics suggests that repeated delays in achieving communication milestones are associated with poorer developmental outcomes at age three.

This research used data from approximately 2,200 mothers and their children from the All Our Families study in Calgary. An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Calgary has been collecting data about the participating families in order to examine parental well-being and child and family outcomes.

Mothers completed a developmental screening tool called the Ages and Stages Questionnaire at ages one, two and three years old.

Although current guidelines suggest that developmental delays, including language delays, be diagnosed by age three, most diagnoses don't occur until age four or five. At this point, many children are already in preschool or kindergarten, a time when learning disparities in language skills can have long-lasting consequences for social skills and academics.

Early identification of delays can help reduce these educational disparities, as research suggests that early interventions for infants and toddlers with language delays are effective at reducing delays by preschool age.

Milestones by the ages

One aspect of the Ages and Stages questionnaire used in this study assesses whether children are meeting six expected milestones related to both verbal and nonverbal communication at each age.

For example, at age one, a child would be expected to be able to say about three simple words, like "mama" or "baba." At age three, a communication milestone might be saying three- or four-word sentences.

Mothers also completed a 100-word checklist of their child's vocabulary at age three and reported whether their child had been diagnosed with a developmental delay or referred to a speech and language pathologist.

In all of our analyses, we controlled for factors known to influence language development, including socio-economic status, gestational age at birth, child sex and a family history of language delays.

Late bloomers caught up

Statistical analyses revealed that 80 per cent of children were considered to be typically developing, meetings all or almost all of the milestones at each age. The other 20 per cent of children fell into three different profiles of delayed communication.

About 13 per cent of children could be classified as "late bloomers," with low scores at age one that continued to improve over time, matching the "typically developing" group by age three. …

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