The Importance of Child Language Check-Ups
A summary of a recent report from the Early Intervention Foundation
What Are Check-Ups?
Going to the pediatrician for regular health check-ups is a familiar routine for all children and parents. The pediatrician looks for signs that a child’s development is on the right track. For example, they check a child’s weight and blood pressure. If during the check-up the pediatrician notes that a child’s weight appears to be very different from the average weight of children their age, the pediatrician will look for a reason of this difference. The pediatrician may, for example, make food and drink recommendations to help this child gain the appropriate amount of weight. Some aspects of a child’s development, such as weight, are checked on regularly because they provide important information about a child’s growth and how likely they are to have other related health problems in the future. Although it’s not often thought of in this way, child language is arguably as meaningful of a measure as weight is of a child’s current and future health.
Why Are They Important?
The Early Intervention Foundation recently published a report called “Language as a child wellbeing indicator,” in which they compiled evidence from studies showing many long-term effects that an early language delay can have on a child’s school and employment opportunities, as well as their lifetime mental and social health. The report is built upon research demonstrating the connection between communication disorders and the following challenges:
- Delays in development of reading skills (Bishop and Adams, 1990)
- Behavioral problems (Van Daal et al., 2007)
- Anxiety in young adulthood (Beitchman et al., 2001)
The authors of this report argue that given this evidence, language skills should be treated as an “indicator”, or sign, of a child’s health early on. This way, children who may need extra attention in this area can receive the intervention they require to prevent later consequences. As of 2015, The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that for children between 3-17 years, 3.3% have a problem with language skills (i.e., understanding the meanings of words and/or using words appropriately), and 5% have a problem with speech skills (i.e., producing sounds in words correctly). Based on these numbers, the report highlights the importance of addressing child language skills as a matter of public health.
What Are the Next Steps?
The Early Intervention Foundation report outlines critical steps we must take as a society in order to be able to meaningfully tackle the language needs of young children.
Among these steps are the following recommendations:
- Developing a public health system to monitor child language skills between the ages of 2-5 so that interventions can be provided as soon as they are needed.
Checking children’s language at a single time point in their early development is not enough, as this method likely misses children whose language difficulties emerge at different time points.
- Supporting children’s language growth regardless of their family’s income level.
Research has demonstrated a relationship between socioeconomic needs and challenges with language development (Fernald et al., 2013). Knowing this, we must encourage the development of government policies that can help children who have access to fewer resources build their language skills, such as by providing parents with evidence-based ways of boosting language development at home.
What’s The Take Away Message?
The authors of the report conclude by noting that researchers must work to continue developing effective ways of describing, testing for, and treating communication disorders in young children. By treating child language skills as equally as meaningful a sign of health as child weight, we can improve the short term and long term paths of children across society.
Law, J., Charlton, J., and Asmussen, K. (2017) Language as a child wellbeing indicator. Early Intervention Foundation.
Beitchman, J. H., Wilson, B., Johnson, C. J., Atkinson, L., Young, A., Adlaf, E., … & Douglas, L. (2001). Fourteen-year follow-up of speech/language-impaired and control children: Psychiatric outcome. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(1), 75-82.
Bishop, D. V., & Adams, C. (1990). A prospective study of the relationship between specific language impairment, phonological disorders and reading retardation. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 31(7), 1027-1050.
Black LI, Vahratian A, Hoffman HJ. Communication disorders and use of intervention services among children aged 3–17 years: United States, 2012. NCHS data brief, no 205. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.
Fernald, A., Marchman, V. A., & Weisleder, A. (2013). SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Developmental science, 16(2), 234-248.
Van Daal, J., Verhoeven, L., & Van Balkom, H. (2007). Behaviour problems in children with language impairment. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 48(11), 1139-1147.