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Children's Health

Late Talkers Not at Risk for Behavior Problems Later On

Late-Talking Children May Have Behavioral and Emotional Issues as Toddlers, but Not as Teens
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Early Intervention for Late Talkers

Children under age 3 with developmental delays, including speech delays, qualify for free evaluation through early intervention. If they are found to have any significant delays, they are eligible for free catch-up services.

Rahil Briggs, PsyD, an infant-toddler psychologist/behavioral expert at the Children' Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, N.Y., says that the children in this study fall into a very specific category, and the findings can't be generalized to late talkers with other developmental delays.

"A 50% delay for a kid expected to have 50 words is far different than a kid expected to have thousands of words," she says. "At age 4, if your child remains delayed, they still have enough words to get their needs met.

"A 50% delay is far more deleterious and troublesome to the 2-year-old," she says. This helps explain why late talkers with no other issues will outgrow behavioral and emotional issues linked to frustration about their inability to communicate and be understood.

"Reassuringly, the study found that expressive language delay was not a risk factor for later emotional and behavioral problems," says Andrew Adesman, MD, the chief of developmental & behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park.

Most children express themselves verbally soon after birth and speak their first word or words at one year. "Between the first and second birthday, we expect children to progress from one to 50 words," he says.

"For children who are not meeting those milestones, the first question is are there are any difficulties understanding language and can they follow a simple command such as 'bring me a toy,'" he says. Other receptive language milestones include being able to point to body parts.

"The kids who we worry about most are those with receptive language delays and socialization difficulty," he says.

Briggs adds: "Concerned parents should keep a language diary and write down each new word that their child says so they do not over- or underestimate the number of words their child has when the pediatrician asks about language development," she says.

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