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Healthy Latino Babies' Cognitive Abilities Lag as They Become Toddlers


Latina mothers from low-income households have healthy babies compared with women from other ethnic groups, but their children don't make as much progress in developing cognitive skills from the ages of 9 months to 2 years as do their white middle-class counterparts, according to a study released by the University of California, Berkeley.

The study is scheduled to appear this week in the Maternal and Child Health Journal. The New York Times published an article today on the study. (Update: The Los Angeles Times also covered the study.) A companion study about Latinos' early development will also be published this fall in the medical journal Pediatrics.

The researchers, led by Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at UC-Berkeley, looked at two subgroups of Latina mothers: women with Mexican heritage and women who primarily speak Spanish and tend to be less acculturated than other Latinas. Both groups of women had strong prenatal practices. They tended not, for example, to smoke or drink while pregnant.

But the Mexican-American mothers also are not likely to have received much education, and that may be one reason why their children soon fall behind middle-class children in language and cognitive development, the study says.

"What's not understood," write the researchers, "is how Latina mothers might preserve beneficial protective factors while acquiring more focused learning activities for their toddlers."


The article doesn't state which language the cognitive deficits were in and if they were hampered by being exposed to two languages at an earlier age. Also, did the tests measure what might be cognitively appropriate in American homes or in Mexican homes? I would also be wary of generalizing this study to all "Latino" groups. The study said Mexican-Americans. I do wonder what kinds of cognitive measures were used, if they were culturally appropriate and whether the study is proposing preschool in English or Spanish. The preschool years are most appropriate for native language instruction and if you really want to see a disconnect between parents and children with a cognitive lag, eliminate the native language and replace it with English so the family can't communicate with each other.

Have you read this study? What assessment instrument was used to determine that these children "lag behind" in cognitive abilities? Was the assessment culturally biased? Was the assessment given in English or the students' primary language? These are very important factors that should be addressed, because in failing to discuss it, we are only reinforcing the deficit ideology that is pervasive in our society towards immigrants and second language learners. Historically data has been misused, misinterpreted and distorted to make assertions about the intellectual inferiority of second language learners and people of color. Advocates of second language learners should always be cognizant of this.

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