Mar. 5, 2007 From the first smile to the first word, signs that a toddler is learning to communicate are a source of great joy for any new parent. But a child's inability to develop such skills at an early stage can be a source of angst. A new study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has come up with new tests for pre-schoolers to help recognise potential problems earlier.
According to Professor Shula Chiat and Dr Penny Roy of City University in London, these tests provide new indicators of the likelihood and nature of longer term difficulties, allowing for earlier and more targeted intervention.
"When children are not talking like their peers, parents want to know what the future holds", says Professor Chiat, "but there are no easy answers. Many 2-3 year olds will catch up with their peers within a year or two, but others don't, and the nature of their longer term language and communication problems will vary".
Unlike traditional assessments which focus on language itself, the four new tests probe 'very early processing skills' (VEPS) which are known to underpin language development. Together, they provide new insights into children's early difficulties and how these are likely to unfold. One of the tests assesses children's ability to pick out and remember the sounds of words by asking them to repeat real words and non-words. The remaining three tests target the kind of social and cognitive skills children require to discover the meaning of words.
The new tests were found to be quick, easy to administer and reliable. The different patterns of performance which emerged from a sample of over 200 clinically referred children were related to the type of language and social communication problems evident 18 months later, when children were 4-5 years old. Researchers also validated the contribution of standard clinical assessment for children as young as 2-3, but the new tests provided important additional information about a child's basic processing skills.
Professor Chiat and Dr Roy believe that these tests could make a significant impact on approaches to children with language and communication problems in the pre-school years. They constitute a viable set of assessments permitting early identification of difficulties with the forms and functions of language, and provide a more reliable and earlier foundation for deciding on appropriate intervention than is currently available.
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