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Report Finds Cognitive Gap Between Latino and White Toddlers Starts Early

A significant percentage of Mexican-American children who matched their white counterparts in cognitive growth at 9 months of age had fallen behind by the time the children reached 2 years old, says a recent study from the University of California, Berkeley. The study was published in the May issue of the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences. Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy, was the lead author.

The young children evaluated in this report are part of a longitudinal study of children born in 2001. About 950 Mexican-American children and 3,600 children of native-born white mothers were included.

To gauge cognitive development at 2 years, the children were tested on measures that included memory, vocabulary and rudimentary problem solving. The toddlers were then divided into three groups: those that showed poor growth, those with mediocre growth, and those demonstrating strong growth.

About 25 percent of white 2-year-olds were in the poor-growth category, 25 percent were in the mediocre-growth category, and 50 percent demonstrated strong growth. 

In comparison, about 53 percent of Mexican-American toddlers were in the poor-growth group, 25 percent were in the mediocre category, and 22 percent demonstrated strong growth. 

These findings exist even though other research has found that based on other measures, such as social and emotional growth and physical health, young Mexican-American children are quite similar to white children.

"These youngsters grow up in warm and supportive families and that yields emotional and social agility," Fuller said in an interview. "But all that caring and support isn't necessarily infused with rich language and asking kids questions and asking kids to articulate words and their own feelings." 

Mexican-American children who demonstrated strong cognitive growth in the study were more likely to have had mothers who had completed some college, worked outside the home, and read to their children daily, the study found. 


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