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Developing Twin Skills

How we care for our twins (and triplets) in their early years has a lasting impact on the kind of adults they will become. Here we help you to understand the general development skills that children learn together with some twin traits and how twins and multiples may differ in reaching those all important milestones..

Children grow and learn throughout their lives, starting at birth, and their development can be followed by how they play, learn, speak, and behave. Skills such as taking a first step, waving bye-bye, learning to count or talking in sentences are called developmental milestones, and these markers enable parents and health professionals to monitor each baby's learning, behaviour and development.

Twins reach milestones in playing, learning, moving, speaking and behaving but its important to remember that all children grow at different rates and twins, even if identical, are still just siblings two different people who will develop at different paces and in different ways. They are unique individuals even though they have shared the same womb and may or may not look remarkably similar!

General development in twins is similar to singletons, provided they have not suffered complications from prematurity. However, language and speech delay, more general cognitive delay or motor problems, behavioural problems and difficulty in parent-child interactions all appear to be more common in multiple birth children.

Many twins, due the fact that they are born prematurely and/or low-birth weight, meet developmental milestones later than average. Doctors often refer to twins' "adjusted age", which means figuring their age from their due date versus their delivery date. If your babies are meeting milestones within a month of their adjusted age, most paediatricians will tell you not to worry. For peace of mind, parents should be aware of less common developmental delays related to prematurity.

The most documented developmental delay amongst twins is language development (talking). While there are many theories as to why twins are late talkers and/or disinterested in learning how to talk, chances are that the reasons are many and varied. If one or both of your twins seems to be lagging behind in speech development (not speaking at all by 18 months, for example), be sure to discuss this with your health visitor or doctor, who will probably refer you to a specialist.

Two more serious developmental delays are also believed to be more common amongst twins than the general population.

Autism
Several studies have found that autistic spectrum disorders are more common in both identical and fraternal twins than the general population (though identical twins are more at risk). Even in identical twin pairs, however, one twin may have an autistic disorder and the other may not. For information on the warning signs of autism, see the link at the end of the article.

Cerebral Palsy
This disorder has been studied extensively, and twins tend to suffer from it more often than the general population. Other factors associated with twins, such as advanced maternal age, low birth weight, and prematurity, also put a child at risk for cerebral palsy.

Research shows us that the early years are important for every child's ability to learn and create, to trust and to develop a strong sense of self, which is vitally important for twins and multiples.

Development is divided into four main areas: Physical, Social, Language & Cognitive.

PHYSICAL

Gross Motor Skills

This refers to the physical ability of using large muscles for activities like rolling over, crawling, walking, running and jumping. Twins are generally a little behind their peers in developing these skills, and its vital that they move around a lot to aid their physical development.

Fine Motor Skills

This refers to smaller movements and more intricate capabilities e.g. picking up small objects, holding a spoon or turning pages in a book. It includes visual skills for hand-eye coordination and grapho-motor skills, involving writing tools. An unusual twin fact is that about 22% are left-handed compared to only 10% of the general population.

SOCIAL

This is the ability to interact with others, control them self and help others e.g. a 6 week old baby smiling or a 5 year old knowing how to take turns in games. Twins usually learn about sharing and co-operation earlier than singletons, as being together so much, they dont have much of a choice!

COGNITIVE

These are the brain-based skills and mental processes needed to learn and solve problems e.g. a baby learning to explore with hands and eyes or a five-year-old learning how to do simple maths problems. IQ tests rate intelligence and identical twins rarely differ by more than five points, while the IQs of fraternal twins may differ as much as those for any siblings.

LANGUAGE

This is the ability to understand and use language. Research tells us that being a twin makes a child more prone to language delays and speech disorders, affecting boys more so than girls. Twins may be 6-8 months behind in the development of their language skills and also have a higher risk of speech problems and stuttering.

HELP AND GUIDANCE

Have fun tracking each of your babies progress, but dont be too rigid when it comes to expecting your little ones to hit certain milestones. If your instincts tell you that one or both of your babies seems to have a delay in a certain area of development, share your worries with your health visitor.

Read More Language and Development Tips for Twins and Triplets




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