A tool that could radically improve the diagnosis of language delays in infants in the UK is being developed by psychologists.

A £358,000 grant to develop the first standardized UK speech and language development tool means that, for the first time, researchers will be able to establish language development norms for UK children aged eight months to 18 months.

Katie Alcock talks about her research into child development.

The tool will reportedly plug an important gap that has left UK researchers and education and health professionals at a disadvantage. Until now, UK language experts have been forced to rely upon more complicated methods of testing child language development, or on methods designed for American English speakers, which can lead to UK babies being misdiagnosed as being delayed in language development.

The 2.5-year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) will also look into the impact of family income and education on UK children’s language development, as well as examining differences between children learning UK English, and other languages and English dialects. The project is expected to make a major contribution to language development research as well as to the effectiveness of speech and language therapy and improved policy making.

The research team is led by Katie Alcock, PhD, of Lancaster University’s Centre for Research in Human Development and Learning, who will be working alongside fellow language development specialists Professor Caroline Rowland, PhD, of the University of Liverpool and Kerstin Meints, PhD, of the University of Lincoln. They will develop a UK Communicative Development Inventory (UK-CDI), consisting of a checklist of a wide variety of children’s communication abilities in using and understanding speech and gesture, which can be quickly and easily filled in by parents.

Once the tool is developed, researchers will use it to carry out large-scale studies of babies and toddlers in the UK. This wealth of new UK-specific data will enable parents and professionals to pick up on problems more easily by comparing a child’s progress against national averages.

“Most language milestones occur in the first few years of life,” says Alcock, “so it is vital that we find out what these typical levels are for very young children. However, this is extremely difficult because most language tests cannot be used with very young children.

“Effective tools have been developed abroad but they are not appropriate for UK English speakers,” continues Alcock. “Tools developed in the United States, for example, have been shown to give inaccurate results for UK children. One research group for example found that using US scores with UK children would lead to high numbers of UK children being misdiagnosed as language delayed.”

Anyone wishing to take part in the study should contact the research team here.

Source: Lancaster University News