Identifying children with language issues goes beyond tests

By Sheryl Kay • Published: October 16th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Helping children develop good language skills is crucial, and it goes far beyond being able to speak well during book reports or Show and Tell. Youngsters who struggle with their speaking abilities may well experience poor literacy levels in adulthood, mental health problems and unemployment.

Given the added issues those youngsters may face, child development experts have long touted the importance of early tests to determine language proficiency. These tests did indeed point to children with normal verbal communication development. What the tests did not do was identify enough of those who had problems … and now researchers know why.

In a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics, investigators looked at language skills data from more than 13,000 children who had been given vocabulary tests. The youngsters were evaluated at age 3, and researchers were hoped to use that data to predict language abilities at age 5.

Once again, the researchers found that if they just relied on the children’s test results, they could identify the children who did not have language problems. In order to recognize those who did have issues or predict those who would, other information needed to be assessed. Specifically, the study showed that factors like the education level of the child’s mother and the child’s behavior all were significant indicators of a current issue, or one that would most likely develop later on.

Most children are not evaluated systematically after age 2. Because of this, the researchers concluded that teachers and health care providers need to carefully monitor youngsters. Looking for those additional factors linked to language problems can help children and their families get the help they need before that first book report is ever assigned.