January 4, 2010

1-In-6 Children Suffer Speech Difficulties

A new British survey indicates that a surprising number of children are unable to speak words by the time they reach 3 years of age. 

The YouGov poll of 1,015 parents of children aged 1 to 7 also revealed that boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to have trouble learning to speak English words.

The average age for a baby to speak their first word is between 10 to 11 months, with toddlers typically speaking up to 300 words by the time they reach 2 to 3 years of age, according to the children's charity I CAN.

However, 4 percent of the parents participating in the survey reported that their child had said nothing until they reached the age of three.

Such late speech development can sometimes lead to low scholastic achievement or mental health problems.

The survey found that a baby's background was not a factor in how quickly they learned to speak.  Indeed, babies in day care were just as likely to have late speech development as those left in front of the television all day.

"We know there is a golden period for developing children's communication between 0 and 5 and that early intervention is vital if children are struggling," said I CAN CEO Virginia Beardshaw in an interview with Britain's Times Online.

"Chatting to your child, playing word games, pointing things out and having fun together every day all give your child the right start to communication," she said.

Speech therapists recommend that parents interact as much as possible with their babies.  This should include reading stories and talking to their children as well as encouraging their babies to begin speaking.

The survey found that 34 percent of girls spoke their first word before reaching the age of 9 months, compared with just 27 percent of boys.

Overall, 16 percent of parents reported that their child had difficulties learning to speak.  However, among parents of boys, 25 percent reported such problems.

Nearly 95 percent of the parents surveyed recalled their child's first word, with the most common (15 percent) being "Dadda", followed by "Mama" at 10 percent.  Other top words included "cat", "car" and "no".  Some parents reported their child speaking unusual first words, such "beer", "gadget", "hoover" and even "tits-up".

Girls were able to connect words at an earlier age than boys, with one-in-five girls having done so before the age of 1, compared to one-in-six boys.

Nearly 25 percent of the parents who reported that their children had difficulties learning to speak did not receive assistance.

"It has lifelong effects for children in terms of their ability to learn to read and write," said Jean Gross, the British government's new adviser on childhood language development, in an interview with the Times Online.

Childhood health goals are too focused on obesity and immunization at the expense of more subtle problems, she added.

All of the parents surveyed said they had told stories, looked at picture books, sang nursery rhymes and played word games with their children. But children with more affluent parents enjoyed these activities at a younger age than those from less affluent families.

Eighty percent of parents were aware that if their child mispronounced a word the correct action was to repeat it back to them correctly.

The YouGov survey and response data can be viewed at http://www.yougov.co.uk/extranets/ygarchives/content/pdf/ST-Nov-topics_toplines.pdf