Every new parent waits excitedly for their offspring’s first words, but many are in the dark when it comes to identifying language difficulties and delays. How many words should a child be speaking at age two, and what does it mean if they’re lagging behind?

Fear not – the answer is at hand. Researchers at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania have devised a simple checklist to help parents determine whether their child is at risk of language-related difficulties, and say that early identification of any issues could allow parents to seek early intervention to minimise the chances of ongoing problems.

The study found that children who could speak fewer than 50 words at two years of age were more likely to struggle with vocabulary, grammar and reading ability as teenagers.

They were also more likely to be diagnosed with conditions such as autism, hearing impairment and other developmental delays.

The 15-year study followed a group of 40 children who had been diagnosed as late talkers, but who were otherwise developing normally.

While most of the children had caught up by four or five years of age, they remained slightly behind their peers in vocabulary, grammar and reading throughout their school years, and researchers suggest that this is a result of their late speech development.

In addition, while around 80% of those who were behind at age two were simply ‘late bloomers’, those who were still behind at age three may need language therapy to help them catch up.

To help parents and health professionals identify toddlers at risk of language delays, study author Professor Leslie Rescorla developed a checklist of 310 basic words which children come across in everyday life. A child with average speaking ability would be using 150 to 200 of the words on the list, while those who used less than 50 at age two could be considered to have some degree of delay.

Professor Rescorla also stressed the importance of spending time talking to your child, and not relying on television or computer programmes to teach your child to speak.

‘Children really need to have people talk to them in order for them to acquire a language - not that they don't learn anything from videos and television, but really they need language partners,’ she says.

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