Language in boys and twins: Late talking

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I have recently received quite a few questions from parents who have reported that their boy’s language development has been slower than their daughters. Also, I have received some enquiries from parents of twins. So, I’d like to share with you some facts about the development of language in boys and language in twins.

Language in boys

Language in boys. Boy Development
  • Boys are three times more likely to be a late talkers (have a late language emergence). This has been proven in a multitude of prevalence studies and within my clinical practice. With my early intervention caseloads, language in boys tends to be more at risk of delay. I see mainly boys, averaging about four boys to every girl.
  • With boys’ language development, their first words and sentences develop later than girls; however, they’re only behind by about 1-2 months.
  • Nevertheless, there is still a typical range in which children (boys and girls) acquire their first words, phrases and sentences. It just means that boys tend to be on the ‘later’ end of the typical range, while girls are on the “earlier” end. It doesn’t mean that boys are all delayed. They’re just a little behind girls by a month or so.
  • If your little boy seems to be behind with his language development, don’t just assume it’s because they’re a “boy” and it’s “normal”. Make sure to get their hearing checked and check in with your doctor, health nurse or an early childhood professional at the least.
  • With the high prevalence of late talking and persistent language difficulties in boys’ development, it is so essential to monitor their hearing and language development and seek support, even when you’re not sure.

Twin development – language

  • The “twinning effect” – Research studies have demonstrated that twin development often has a delayed onset. Regarding twins’ language development, at 20 months of age, they are likely to be one or two months behind single-born children in their expressive vocabulary size.
  • With this twinning effect in mind, it’s reasonable to expect that a twins development in expressive vocabulary should be around thirty words at 24 months of age (compared to fifty words at 24 months for single born children).
  • Late language emergence (late talking) is much more prevalent in twins by about 18%, especially in identical (monozygotic) twins and twin boys. As such, it’s essential to closely monitor your twins’ development and seek support early on.
  • Many factors contribute to twins being at more risk of late talking, such as:
  • They naturally have a lower birth weight (less than 85% of optimum birth weight).
  • They naturally spend less dedicated language enriched time with parents or caregivers. Similar to what occurs with a second child. Parents and caregivers naturally have less dedicated time spent with the child. As such, their language acquisition is likely slower than the first child.
  • Twins also tend to rely on each other for social-emotional connection and don’t need to be as ‘expressive’. (similar to when a younger child depends on an older sibling to talk for them, connect with etc.).

On top of the general risk factors for late talkers & language impairment, some additional risk factors for twins may include:

They are classed as identical (monozygotic) twins and are being boys – purely based on the fact that there is a higher prevalence of language delay and persistent language difficulties past three years of age in these groups.

Twins who score at the 10th percentile or lower in vocabulary development tests are at higher risk of ongoing language delay at 3-4 years of age.

What can I do if my boy or twins language development is delayed?

Does your child only have a handful of words, or perhaps only says sounds? Are they two years old, use less than fifty words (thirty words for twins) and have not begun combining two words into phrases? Then your child is likely to have late language emergence (a late talker) and may be at risk of persistent language difficulties. Here is what I suggest that you do:

  • Firstly, get your child’s hearing checked by an audiologist. Many children who are late to talk have difficulty hearing the subtle sounds in speech due to undiagnosed ear infections and ear canal blockages. This makes it impossible for them to learn language! So it’s best to identify hearing issues or rule them out from the beginning.
  • Spend 10 minutes of dedicated 1:1 time with your child every day (without screens, of course!). Focus on commenting on your actions rather than asking questions.
  • If your child doesn’t easily copy sounds or words, focus on their imitation skills in play (think actions, gestures, toys, etc.).
  • Choose one word to target each week, preferably a general all-purpose verb such as “go, more, have or mine”. Highlight and emphasise the target word within set activities and throughout your everyday.
  • Instead of focusing on your child imitating the new word, focus on saying the word AS THE ACTION IS HAPPENING! (aka mapping). Your child needs to hear the word within the context repeatedly before they will imitate it.

Want more help?

Check out the Online Speechie Screener

A quick and easy way to see if your child is on track! Find out if your child’s communication development is on track for their age AND whether your should wait, OR seek help now. Results, activities and strategies specific to your child’s needs sent straight to your inbox! Ages 15 months > to 2 years; 7 months available now!

Speechie Parent Playbooks

Home program to help your child talk

Already know your boys development or twins development is delayed? Perhaps you’re looking for a step-by-step method to get them learning new words and phrases?

Then check out the Speechie Parent Playbooks – a complete home program that can help you be the biggest game-changer in your child’s early development and beyond. Provided are the key ingredients to focus on so that you can start teaching your child straight away. While not adding too much time to your day!

Free handouts related to late talkers here:

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