two children reading a bookHow much do scientists really know about language delays in young children? Research from a collaboration between the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, University of Oslo and University of Melbourne in Australia used longitudinal data to find out. After identifying several types of language delays, the researchers discovered that boys were the most likely to exhibit delayed language development.

Data for the study came from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa), in which a normal cross-section of the population’s mothers completed questionnaires. MoBa followed the development of over 10,000 children from gestation to five years of age. Using data about children’s language production, the researchers identified children with language difficulties at the ages of three and five years. They classified the language delays into three groups: persistent delayed language (delays at both ages), transient delayed language development (at age three only), and delayed language development (a delay first identified at age five).

They found that the majority of children with persistent or transient delayed language were boys. Reading and writing issues among family members were also identified as risk factors for delays in language development. For children whose linguistic troubles first manifested at age five, gender was found to be irrelevant.

In the future, the research team is hoping to examine the relationship between gender and language. They also intend to discover more about the needs of children with different types of language delays.

“Professionals and caregivers must be vigilant. It is difficult to detect language difficulties when language becomes complex in older children. They must be trained so that they are confident in how to spot language difficulties and how to encourage a child’s language. We need more research into the needs of children with different trajectories,” concludes Eivind Ystrøm, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, who supervised the research.

This research is published in the International Journal of Language & Communication.

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