New tool can further improve the screening for language delay in children

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The use of a new Early Language Scale could further improve the screening for language delay in children aged one to six years. This screening tool has been developed based on 26 milestones in language development. This is the conclusion of the thesis written by Margot Bochane from the UMCG. She will defend her thesis at the UG on 2 June 2021.

Statistically, one in 20 children in a class or group has a developmental language disorder (DLD). Children with DLD struggle in school. The linguistic problems can easily cause miscommunication and, therefore, behavioural problems. Early identification of DLD is very important because this allows early treatment. As a result, the problems that children encounter at school, at home and during leisure activities can be prevented or reduced. However, children with DLD are currently not always identified early on.  

Further improvement of early identification     

In her research project, Bochane evaluated the current screening tools and developed an additional, new tool aimed at easily assessing whether a child’s language skills are ‘okay’ or ‘not okay’. Child health care professionals can detect language development problems in children as young as two. Parents, playgroup leaders and primary school teachers can identify children with developmental language problems, too. 

New screening tool for identifying problems    

Bochane developed the Early Language Scale (ELS), a new tool for identifying developmental language problems in children aged one to six years. The tool was developed on the basis of research conducted among 1,381 parents from across the Netherlands. This research included questions such as: ‘Is your child able to combine two words, for instance “daddy, ball” or “look, cat”?’ or ‘Is your child able to retell a story based on a number of pictures, for instance when you are reading a book with your child?’ This resulted in a list of 26 milestones in language development. 

Delays can be detected    

Next, Bochane examined whether delays in language development could be detected based on these 26 milestones from the Early Language Scale. This turned out to be the case. The ELS can help child health care professionals and early childhood education professionals to identify children aged one to six with an atypical language development early on. 

Reducing delays in language development     

Bochane argues in favour of this new screening tool being widely implemented. She says: ‘The results of my thesis demonstrate that although screening for language delays by the Dutch child health care service is already effective, further improvements can be made by implementing the ELS. This may also be the case for other countries and settings. The implementation of my study results could increase the number of capable and confident children from early school years onwards. Children can be offered a positive start because the delays in language development may be reduced and early language development can be accelerated.’ 

Curriculum vitae

Margot Bochane was born in the Dutch town of Leiderdorp in 1973. She studied logopaedic science at Utrecht University and performed her research at the UMCG Research Institute SHARE. Her thesis is titled: ‘Uniform screening for atypical language development in Dutch child health care’. After defending her thesis, she will continue to work as a lecturer and researcher at the Speech and Language Therapy programme at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen.