Multiple birth children can be slower than singletons to develop language. Typically, they are older when they start to speak and use simpler, shorter sentences. However, many multiples show no signs of language delay, and those that do usually catch up.
Speech and language difficulties occur more often in twins and triplets because they are more likely to experience a combination of the factors that predispose all children to speech and language difficulties (such as prematurity or being part of a large family). But being a twin or triplet can also mean:
- The children spend more time with their multiple sibling(s) than with other members of the family, so they have a regular input of immature speech sounds.
- The children will probably receive less individual attention than singleton children, and for shorter periods of time.
- Parents of multiple birth children will often talk to one child while looking at or dealing with the other(s).
- Multiple birth children have less time available in which to get their point across.
- Sometimes one child assumes responsibility for replying on behalf of the other(s).
There is no need for concern as long as the children have plenty of opportunities to talk and express themselves. Raise any concerns with your GP or a registered speech and language therapist. The charity Afasic supports children with language delay.
Helping with language
- Spend some time each day talking to each child alone.
- Concentrate on the child you are talking to and maintain eye contact.
- Turn everything off (TV/radio etc) for at least 30 minutes a day. Try to avoid having the TV on as background noise as this can discourage the need for speech compared to a quiet environment which gives the opportunity for speech and aids concentration.
- Look at books with the children individually.
- Repeat back to your child what he has said in the correct form if he has mispronounced a word or sentence.
- Encourage older siblings, friends and family to talk to the children individually.
- Don’t allow one child to speak for the other/s all the time. Encourage each to have opinions and to voice them.
- Encourage social contact, and help the children to have individual friends.
- Play games which encourage listening and attention, and encourage imaginative play.
- Help others to tell your children apart.
Multiples tend to talk quickly, loudly and in short sentences – presumably to increase their chances of being heard. This can mean words are shortened (‘sister’ may become ‘ter’) or mispronounced. If the children use many of these shared words, it may sound like a private language.
This is almost always a short-lived phase which gives way to the family’s language, although there may be a spell when the children use both. It is only in very rare and unusual circumstances that multiples continue to use a private language exclusively.
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