Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Many British kids having a hard time learning to talk, so they say

I don't understand this at all, and I don't think I believe it. A survey in Britain found that 1 in 6 kids, and nearly 1/4 of boys, have difficulty learning to talk and understand speech. 4% of kids had not said their first word by age 3.

It was an internet survey by a marketing firm, with parents reporting on their own kids' linguistic development. The parents all said they talked to their kids and read to them, told them stories, sang nursery rhymes, all the things parents need to do to teach their kids to speak, and still 1/4 of boys have a hard time with it, and 4% don't say a word until age 3.

I have a hard time believing the underlying claim of kids not learning to speak, because people are so hard-wired to learn to speak whatever their parents speak, and the parents all claim they are doing what we know they need to do. How could we survive as a species if 1/4 of the males have a hard time learning what distinguishes us from apes? If 1/4 of British males do, Britain is in serious trouble.

But suppose the survey results are correctly reported. What could be causing it?

  • The parents could be mistaken about their kids' development. Maybe the parents are so concerned  about wanting baby Einstein that they think their kid is behind when it is not. 
  • The parents could be misreporting how they treat their kids. Maybe they don't talk to their kids as much as they say; maybe some kids are really raised by TVs.
  • Maybe it was a bad sample, so the survey got filled out more by parents with slow-talking kids. Maybe parents of slow-talking kids have support groups that direct each other to things like this.
  • The surveyor could be setting us up to sell a product to get kids to talk sooner. Maybe the questions were loaded. I think it was done at the behest of a government person, but remember, this is the same government that wants to mandate teaching 3-year-olds to write.
  • There could be some pollutant in Britain that is rotting their brains; maybe organophosphates.
  • Maybe mad cow disease got into infant formula. Alert Jenny McCarthy.
  • Some mutation for delayed speech could be spreading among the Brits because life is easier now than in the pleistocene, and people who can't talk will still be taken care of.
  • It could just be the way Brits are. Maybe there has been too much inbreeding on the island, and some of them may be a little slow picking things up.* We'd need to see whether the current situation is new or a continuing crisis.
  • It could be the way everybody is. Maybe the normal range is just wider than I expected.
But if it is really true that 4% of kids do not say a single word before their third birthday, I would still be very concerned about those 4% and get some sort of intervention for them right away. I understand that there are ranges of normal, and it may be that some tiny percent of normal kids don't say a single word until 3, but it is at best at the very high end of the normal range, and 4%? That's a lot. Thats as many as have schizophrenia, bipolar, autism, and OCD combined. I'd certainly want to find out why with each kid.

*Do I need to identify irony?

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