Communication Delays: Common Misconceptions

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Popular misconceptions regarding communication delays in boys, bilingual children, and younger siblings may prevent these groups from getting the help they need. All children who show early warning signs of a delay should immediately be referred for a developmental screening by a speech-language pathologist. Developmental screenings are typically free and last approximately 15 minutes. Early detection and treatment give children with communication delays a greater chance of improving with speech therapy.

Misconception #1: It is normal for boys to show delays in speech and language. While boys tend to acquire communication skills at a slower rate than girls, they should still fall within the typical age range for major milestones1, 2. Any signs of a communication delay in both boys and girls should be addressed in a timely manner.

Misconception #2: Bilingual children talk later than monolingual children. Bilingual children will reach communication milestones at the same pace as their monolingual peers, with first words appearing around 11 to 14 months3, 4. Total vocabulary growth is the same between typically developing bilingual and monolingual children when every language is taken into account.

Misconception #3: Younger siblings talk later because their older siblings talk for them.  All children are motivated to communicate their own needs and wants as soon as they can. Studies have shown that there are no differences in general communication development between first-born children and later-born children5, 6.

Communication delays, ranging from hearing and oral-motor issues to difficulties with language comprehension and production, can be detected within the first year. If an infant does not seem to respond to sounds or faces, or is not producing age-appropriate coos, babbles, or words, refer him or her for a screening. Pediatric therapy clinics typically offer free developmental screenings to help all children reach their fullest potential.

[1] Özçalskan, S, Goldin-Meadow, S. Sex differences in language first appear in gesture. Developmental Science. 2010; 13(5): 752-760.
[2] Huttenlocher J, Haight W, Bryk A, Seltzer M, Lyons T. Early vocabulary growth: relation to language input and gender. Developmental Psychology. 1991; 27(20): 236-248.
[3] Petitto, LA., Holowka, S. Evaluating attributions of delay and confusion in young bilinguals: special insights from infants acquiring a signed and spoken language. Sign Language Studies. 2002; 3(1): 4-33.
[4] Werker, JF, Byers-Heinlein, K. Bilingualism in infancy: first steps in perception and comprehension. Trends Cogn Sci. 2008; 12(4): 144-151.
[5] Oshima-Takane Y, Goodz E, Derevensky J. Birth order effects on early language development: do second born children learn from overheard speech? Child Development. 1996; 67(2): 621-634.
[6] Tomblin, JB. The effect of birth order on the occurrence of developmental language impairment. Br J Disord Commun. 1990; 25(1): 77-84.