Research Frontiers: Communicating Milestones, When 2 Worry

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Kennedy Krieger Study Focuses on Following Children through the "Gray Period" of Language Development

Communication Milestones: When 2 WorryThe early years of a child's life are an exciting and promising time. Parents eagerly anticipate seeing their child's first steps and hearing her first words. But what happens when time passes and these milestones don't occur? When should parents seek help, and where can they find it? A child development study led by Dr. Rebecca Landa of Kennedy Krieger's Center for Autism and Related Disorders is attempting to help answer these questions.

As part of her five-year, $7.7 million Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment (STAART) grant, Dr. Landa has received funding from the National Institutes of Mental Health to study language development in children considered to be "late talkers" those between the ages of 18 and 24 months who are saying fewer than ten words. This work is critical in assisting parents and professionals in understanding which elements of language development predict whether or not their children's long-term language skills will be compromised.

Young children with delayed expressive language are known to be at risk for continuing language problems, emotional and behavioral disorders and learning disabilities. However, not all children who initially are slow to talk become youngsters with language impairments or other disabilities. Many late talkers "catch up" in language during the preschool years and are indistinguishable from their peers in later language skills, academic achievement and emotional/behavioral adjustment.

"Distinguishing toddlers who are merely acquiring their expressive language at a slower pace from those two-year olds who will continue to exhibit difficulty with language acquisition poses a unique diagnostic challenge for early childcare providers," explains Dr. Landa. "The challenge emerges between the ages of 18 and 24 months, which is sometimes referred to as the gray period' of language development. Inconclusive and limited research on this period of language development provides limited information for even speech-language pathologists to accurately determine whether intervention is necessary or whether a child's language will develop on its own."

Dr. Landa's study, which follows the same group of children over a period of 12 to 18 months, offers a unique opportunity to observe the developmental trajectory of children who show signs of language delays. The study's goal is to allow better differentiation between children whose language development is bit slower than their peers from those who show signs of a specific language or other developmental disorder. This information will be invaluable to speech-language pathologists as they attempt to predict prognosis, and will assist parents in understanding when they should seek professional assistance about their child's language development.

For more information on the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, please call 1-877-850-3372 or email

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