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Resources Centre / Twins Tips Introduction / Twins Tips / Language Development in Twins, Triplets & Higher Order Multiples
Language Development in Twins, Triplets & Higher Order Multiples
The following is a summary of the research on language development in multiples. Possibly the following factors affect multiples :

1. Later with first words (twins are typically six to eight months behind the general population. no research on higher order multiples)

2. Reduced vocabulary at school entry. Children with a limited or lower vocabulary tend to have some reading problems.

Tools for achieving good pre-reading skills:
  • Rhyming skills: Teaching your child how to rhyme words and to listen to rhyming words.
  • Segmentation skills: Teaching your child to identify the syllables by clapping out the syllables of words. Note: children with hearing loss and ear infections have a higher possibility of reading difficulties.
3. Later in terms of walking and play skills.

It has been noted that early walkers are more likely to be early talker (the research actually states that late walkers have a greater risk of being late talkersso we assume the reserve to be true for the following reasons). This is quite reasonable in the sense that the more children move and groove the more opportunities they have to discover. for us to respond to their discoveries. and the more they can get into. Therefore. we tend to be talking to them more. if only to prevent them from getting into (more) trouble.

4. Fewer verbal exchanges.

Due to our hectic days and lack of opportunities for us to spend time with one child at a time we tend to use shorter. more direct phrases to communicate with our children.

5. Higher incidence of autonomous language ("twintalk". cryptophasia. idioglossia)
The research says that multiples do/can participate in "twintalk" and it is referred to as "autonomous". but it is not truly autonomous. In most cases. it is an immature and often almost unintelligible variation or form of the language of their environment (i.e.. French. English. etc.) which is reinforced by their same aged siblings and the cycle continues unless we are constantly reinforcing proper speech and language skills. Yes. a hard job when there are three and four children of the same age running around at the same time.
  • at greater risk of social delays
  • higher incidence of articulation problems
  • at higher risk of spelling and reading difficulties
  • boys at greater risk
Please note that speech delays are the most common difficulty (disability) in the general population. 30% of twins and higher order multiples have communication problems. Also. there is a 2/3 greater risk for boys to have speech and language delays and at a greater risk for ear infections.

The greatest learning period for speech and language development and a critical period to monitor hearing is 0 to 18 months. The first 18 months are critical in terms of having optimal hearing which is directly related to language and speech acquisition (yes. before the child is actually speaking) The first three years of a child"s life is critical in speech and language development.

Why ?

It is not clear. but it is suspected that do to the multiplicity:

  • there are reduced opportunities for interaction with caregivers. This is also true for a second child. The more children there are the less time we have to spend with each child individually.
  • caregiver"s use more directive language therefore fewer verbal exchanges
  • there is more competition. We suspect our kids tend to speak more quickly in order to get all the information out at once. as someone else might tell the story or take mum"s attention away. Faster speech is often not articulated as clearly and often leads to less use of the muscles we use when we speak which causes more articulation issues.
  • there may be significant prenatal/birth history which effect the child"s speech and language development. Premature and low birth weight children are at increased risk of all kinds of complication including speech difficulties. For your information: children born under 2500 grams need to be watched and children under 1500 grams need to be watched very carefully in the area of communication.
  • Also. children with ear infections are also at greater risk. Many doctors believe that three infections per year is acceptable. However. in some cases the fluid in the ear can remain there for three months after the infection. If this is the case then a child with three ear infections could potentially have reduced hearing due to the infection and the remaining fluid for close to one year.

Communication Development

  • 0-12 months: by the time the child is one year old. s/he will be able to:
  • make eye contact with you and use gaze to direct attention
  • take turns and interact in little social games such as "Peek-a-boo"
  • imitate some actions and sounds
  • understand a few simple routine commands such as "Don"t touch"
  • respond to "no" and his/her name
  • vocalize to gain your attention with cries. sounds and something close to a word
  • gesture e.g. shake/nod his/her head. clap hands. point etc. Good gesture development leads to good language development
1 to 2 years
by the time a child is two years old. s/he will be able to:

  • 12 to 15 months - early words started
  • 18 months - should have 10 to 20 words they use in their vocabulary. words may not be clear. but we know what they are talking about
  • 24 months - 50 to 70 word vocabulary and putting two words together. Parents should be aware that the words they know and use should be from a variety of groups of words (names. locations. action words. describing words and socially useful words) in order that children can learn to start to put sentences together. If this is not the case. then parents may want to be looking into obtaining some more information on speech and language development and how it relates to their children).
  • recognize many new words
  • point to 3 to 5 body parts
  • follow a one step direction and some routine two step directions
  • listen to a short familiar story
  • say own name
  • start putting two words together e.g. "more milk"
  • get the message across some of the time but communicating can still be very frustrating!
2 to 3 years
by the time a child is three years old. s/he will be able to:

  • understand most of what is said to him/her
  • sit and listen to familiar story and have a little conversation about it.
  • comprehend in/on/under
  • identify some familiar objects by function e.g. "What do you eat with?"
  • follow a series of two commands e.g. "Take off your coat and put it in your cupboard."
  • ask and answer a few simple "" questions such as "Where is mummy?"
  • use many different types of words and is learning new words all the time
  • put two. three and four words together
  • use plural endings e.g. cats and possessive endings e.g. daddy"s car
  • use "is" in many different sentences e.g. "Daddy is driving" or "That is mine"
  • use pronouns such as I. me. you. mine
  • express more complex ideas but speech may show some hesitations and repetitions
  • be understood much of the time but s/he will still make many errors
  • "f". "k". "g" sounds
3-4 years-
by the time a child is four years of age s/he will be able to:
(by this age there is a rapid development of language)
  • follow longer more complex commands
  • understand simple number concepts and recognize primary colours
  • use an ever expanding vocabulary
  • formulate longer more complex sentences for negatives. questions etc
  • ask lots of questions beginning with "who". "what". "where". and wait for it. "why"!!
  • sequence simple stories and talk about what happened. is happening and will happen
  • use pronouns; he. she. they. our. etc
  • use "is/are/am" consistently and move them around in the sentence for question forms
  • use speech that is largely intelligible with a few persistent sound errors
  • use language to interact and cooperate in play with peers
4 - 5 years
by the time a child is five years s/he will be able to:

  • appreciate the meaning of time and more advance number concepts
  • focus on an activity and manage to listen and follow directions at the same time
  • understand the concept of rules in play
  • attend to and follow three step directions
  • comprehend more advanced prepositional concepts such as: between. above. below etc
  • compare. contrast and categorize objects
  • understand and ask simple "how". "when". and "what if" questions
  • can name first. middle and last and count to ten
  • use some irregular grammatical forms such as child/children
  • use past tense forms more consistently
  • articulate most sounds aside from a few later ones such as "l". "th". and "r"
  • ask what words mean and define a few words for you
5- 6 years
by the time a child is six years s/he will be able to:

  • answer "What would happen if" questions
  • understand the "opposite of"
  • tell left from right
  • use all pronoun forms correctly
  • use more advance word endings such as biggest and slowly
  • use language to bargain and negotiate with peers
  • use sentences that are close to simple adult sentences in terms of formulation

Possible Interventions:
  • early participation in speech
  • parental support hard for us to be the be all and end all when we have many children at once
  • more 1:1 time with parents for each sibling in the ideal world!
  • increased opportunities to mix with other children who have good speech development
  • maybe. alternating days a preschool more time with parent when ratios are decreased. more exposure to children of the same age with good speech development. and the increased time with other adults
Notes: any parent can access speech and language professional without a doctor"s referral. There are free services within most Health Services Programs for Speech and Language.

Tips for Talking
Developing Your Child"s Language Skills :

Children need to learn how to listen and follow directions. They also need to learn how to express themselves. Try to use the following suggestions during everyday activities to encourage your child"s language development;

1. When you talk to your child. make sure you have his/her attention. Call his/her name before you say anything or touch him/her gently on the arm.

2. Make sure child is listening when you talk to him/her. To ensure you have his/her full attention. get down to your child"s level and make eye contact with him/her.

3. Try to eliminate any distractions. turn off the television or clean up toys. These can distract his attention away from listening to you.

4. Pair gestures and facial expression with directions. This will help them to understand what you are telling them to do.

5. Speak clearly and not too quickly so that they have time to take in what your are telling them. Kids are more likely to listen to slower speech that is broken into segments: Take your coat off. (pause) Go wash your hands please.

6. Repeat information where necessary. Repetition will really help them to learn.

7. Encourage your child"s attempts to communicate with you. If a child uses a word incorrectly repeat the word back correctly and emphasize the word or sound they are having difficulty with as often as you can. Do not try to get the child to repeat the word back to you because they may repeat it incorrectly again which may discourage them from trying again and/or emphasis the incorrect use rather than the correct use. It"s not necessary to correct your child"s pronunciation or grammar. Instead repeat what s/he said in the correct way without insisting that s/he copies you. It is better to provide them with lots of chances to hear the word or sound used correctly.

8. Emphasize key word and sounds you want your child to learn. Remembering all the groups of words we use to form sentences: names. locations. action words. describing words. and socially useful words.

9. Repeat main ideas and new information frequently in as many different ways as possible.

10. Give your child enough time to respond. Your child may take a long time to organize his thoughts and feelings and put them into words. Avoid the tendency to interrupt your child or finish their sentences. Most children take 3 to 5 seconds to respond. It may take 5 to 11 second for a child with a speech and language delay to respond. We usually give our children .5 or 1 second to respond.

11. Be aware of the words. sounds and sentence patterns or grammar that your child needs to learn and model them often for your child.

12. Talk out loud about what you and your child are doing in simple sentences. It is also a good idea to talk about how you and other people might be feeling.

13. Expand on what your child says by adding new words and new ideas to their remarks.

14. Reading to your child is one of the best ways to develop their listening and talking skills.

Resources : Presentation by Paula Moss. Speech-Language Pathologist and Mother of 10 month old twins on November 26. 1998

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