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Gender Plays Role in Delayed Language Development, Study Says

A study of more than 10,000 Norwegian children found a connection between gender and delayed language development, with boys at greater risk of delays than girls. 

The study also found that reading and writing difficulties in other family members were associated with delayed language development in children. 

The study was published online by the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders. The information was gathered on questionnaires filled out by mothers about their children, starting in their 17th week of gestation up through age 5.

The researchers divided children with language difficulties into three groups. Those with "persistent" delayed language development included children who showed delays both at age 3 and age 5. Children with "transient" delayed language problems only showed difficulty at 3 years old, but not at age 5. The third group was children whose language difficulties were diagnosed around age 5. Boys were in the majority in the groups of children with "persistent" and with "transient" delayed language development. Gender appeared to play no role in the group of children whose language delays were diagnosed at age 5.

The study also found that reading and writing difficulties in other family members are a risk factor for children.

In an interview with Science Daily, study author Eivind Ystrøm, a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, noted that other studies have noted a connection between testosterone in amniotic fluid and the development of autism and language disorders. He said that boys with language delays often catch up by the time they enter school. From the article: 

Ystrøm believes that children with delayed language development must be identified as early as possible. Parents, health-care workers, and child care staff should be aware of the language development of children and encourage an enabling language environment, in some cases with specially adapted measures. In particular, they must be aware of children who have sustained disabilities, or who have had normal language development up to three years and then unexpectedly began to have difficulties.

"Professionals and caregivers must be vigilant. It is difficult to detect language difficulties when language becomes more complex in older children. They must be trained so that they are confident in how to spot language difficulties and how to encourage a child's language. We need more research into the needs of children with different trajectories," says Ystrøm.

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