Previous studies have found that between 8 and 15 % of 2-3 year old children show late language production, many of whom are at risk of persistent problems.
Much research has therefore been aimed at examining associations between children's early non-verbal communication and their language development, in order to identify early language delays in children in need of follow-ups.
A new study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in collaboration with the University of Oslo is based on mothers' reports of children's communication and language from the Norwegian Mother and Child Study, and included 42,517 children at 18 months and 28,107 of the same children at 3 years.
Illustration photo: FLICKR
The findings from this study show that the strongest verbal marker for late language development was poor language comprehension at 18 months. The strongest non-verbal marker was the late use of imitative actions-actions that imitate parental expressions and actions. Pointing gestures, which are used to obtain something or show interest in something, had no unique predictive impact on late language development in this age period.
- The result that imitative actions are more important than pointing gestures can be interpreted in several ways, says Imac Maria Zambrana, who recently completed a PhD at the Division of Mental Health. She is also the main author of the study that was recently published in the prestigious journal Child Development.
- Pointing gestures are thought to reflect the ability of children to more generally communicate intentional messages, while imitative actions can be more related to a growing capacity that children develop at this age to represent what they experience symbolically, both by non-verbal and verbal means, explains Zambrana.
Given that symbolic representations are essential for forming meaning in language, Zambrana and her colleagues believe the results reflect a developmental link between non-verbal and linguistic abilities that is related to symbolic representational skills in this age period.
- If the focus on symbolic representational skills, expressed both non-verbally and linguistically, may help identify risk for language delay as early as 18 months, these findings may have practical implications for work on early identification of children in need of follow-ups, as well as increasing our understanding of language development in children more generally, says Zambrana.
Source: Press release from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health