Hi Reddit, My main area of research looks at how difficulties in learning language in early childhood impacts on other areas of children’s development, such as emotional regulation and behavioural difficulties. We are trying to find out why and how difficulties with language have wider impacts on children’s development. My research group mainly looks at children with Developmental Language Disorder, or a primary problem with understanding and/or using language. These children may have other difficulties as well, such as dyslexia or ADHD. This disorder affects 7.6% of children and often goes undiagnosed. I have written articles to help parents understand when they should be concerned about their child’s language development.

I have very recently launched a new project to help parents of children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD; previously known as SLI or a range of other terms!) and adults with DLD better under the science and the research looking at DLD. We take important papers and summarise them in a very brief and easy to understand format. We also give parents the links to the papers, so they can read the paper themselves if they wish. We hope this will help parents better understand how they can best help and support their children with DLD. We also link these parents and adults with research possibilities – if we can help improve our understanding of DLD through research, we will be able to get improved treatments, which will lead to better outcomes for children and young people with DLD. The project is called Engage with Development Language Disorder or E-DLD for short!

Although I currently focus on children with atypical language development, I do know a lot about how children go about the process of acquiring language without any problems! Please ask me anything about language development.

Proof: https://www.flickr.com/photos/uniofbath/50593334681/in/dateposted/

Please let us know if you have any feedback on this AMA.

Comments: 164 • Responses: 15  • Date: 

Frangiblepani117 karma

People used to say you shouldn't teach an infant more than one language at once, meaning the child should master one language first, then add others. Has that been debunked?

If so, is there any upper limit on how many languages an infant can/should learn, before it becomes a detriment?

Sorry I don't have anything about language disorders, it's not something I've thought about, much.

UniversityofBath214 karma

Hi - I'm so glad this has been brought up. That is absolute nonsense! Infants from a few weeks to months old can distinguish between two languages and can begin to learn both languages. newborn infants can tell the difference between their mothers language and "foreign" languages! So please - everyone - do not listen to even doctors or professionals that tell you to limit a child's input to a single language, even if they do have difficulties learning language.

There is no real limit, but children do need to get sufficient input in each language they are learning. It really very much depends no the environment and how it's structured which determines how many languages a child can acquire.

No worries - you don't need questions about language disorders. it is probably a good thing you haven't had to consider this, but do keep this in mind for other children or to mention to other parents if you notice there might be an issue. language disorders are far too easily overlooked, unfortunately.

Frangiblepani22 karma

Now that I think about it, a child of a family I know speaks in a way that sounds like someone trying to clear phlegm. He says S sounds like shk. It improved as he got older but it's still there. I assumed it would go away eventually.

Are language disorders usually a physical thing, or are they the result of habits or something else?

Like TV chef Jamie Oliver seems to have a lisp, and when I watch him on TV, it looks like he has a fat tongue. Any idea what's going on there?

UniversityofBath72 karma

Hi - this is another very good thing to clarify. What you're describing in a speech sound problem - or an articular problem. This is very different to language. Language is how we structure our thoughts and ideas, and understand what other people are saying. Articulation is the physical process of actually saying words. What you described sounds like an articular problem.

sushistarbear50 karma

Do you think adults have ability to acquire language later in life in similar or different ways compared to children?

UniversityofBath90 karma

Sadly not - we can still acquire language, but not with the same ease or proficiency as young children. We learn in qualitatively different ways and it is much more of an effort to learn languages later in life.

UniversityofBath48 karma

Thanks for all your questions everyone! I really enjoyed this event and I hope you've enjoyed it as well. Bye for now!

drama-llama127 karma

Hi. My son is 4 with suspected DLD. My son doesn’t quite get blending sounds together but seems to start reading by memorising the words. Is this a bad path to go down or is it realistic?

Also is it unrealistic to think my son will have a relatively ‘normal’ life.. driving a car.. getting a job.. and living on his own? Thank you

UniversityofBath41 karma

I'm not sure about the specific manner in which children with DLD begin to read, but memorising words is a bit more consistent with some recent ideas and hypothesis about the causal factors behind DLD, including having a better declarative memory system, so memorising might be easier for him than relying other other, more automatic memory systems. Sorry that wasn't too specific!

Try not to think of the worst case scenario. Reading the literature and looking online can be draughting, but you son is very young still and you are getting a diagnosis - you've identified the problem! That is a huge plus for his long term outcomes. Adolescents with DLD do drive, they have relationships, they get jobs, and they get married and have children. The research does show there are, on average, more longer term issues in individuals with DLD but this is NOT deterministic that your child, or any child, with DLD will definitely struggle in their later life. Fight for the support your child needs now, be patient, understanding and caring now and in the future. That's all you can do!

Oh, and do consider signing up for the Engage with DLD project (forgive my plug!) - www.engage-dld.com

drama-llama116 karma

I have signed up to your link.

Thank you for your response. We are fully supporting Carter all day, everyday. We are always teaching him something whether or not through play or sometimes when he doesn’t realise it through normal conversations. I’m a planner so it’s difficult to look into the future without having any knowledge of what that looks like.. that is something I am adjusting to.

I’m keen to learn more about this condition and how best we can help our son.

Thank you for all you are doing!

UniversityofBath11 karma

Thanks for signing up to the project! I hope it does help provide some answers. And there are positive stories of outcomes from adults with DLD, so do look those up. And it sounds like you are doing all you can do to help Carter - that is all you can do!

onigiri46722 karma

When I was 6, we sometimes did an activity where we would sit in a circle and the teacher would hold up enlarged black and white photos of two people and ask us what we thought was going on. I assume it was a lesson for recognizing body language and emotional expression in the face, for example the picture would have someone crossing their arms. But we did it so seldomly I don't understand how it was a lesson plan, and since we did it in a group I don't understand how she could have been screening us individually for any type of emotional recognition and naming disorders. I only remember this because it caused me tiny childhood STRESS because I had no idea what we were suppose to say, and would copy what someone else said. Any ideas about what this was, does it intersect with your work?

UniversityofBath23 karma

I'm sorry, but I've never heard of that at all. It almost sounds like it might have been part of a research project! I also don't see how it would intersect with my work. I can see why you'd be interested to find out what that was about - I'm sorry I don't have any answers!

Annual-Mud-98717 karma

Is developmental language disorder the only problem children can have or are there others? If there are others are they more or less common?

UniversityofBath29 karma

Hi - thanks for the question. Children can have other language disorders as well as Developmental Language Disorder, but these are when there is another condition that can explain the language disorder. So children can have a language disorder associated with hearing loss or a language disorder associated with Autism. In total about 10% of children have language disorder of some kind and about 7% of all children have Developmental Language Disorder or DLD. So DLD is by far the most common type of language disorder. Thanks for your question!

Due_Beautiful234211 karma

Hi. Thank you for this. My 5 year old has recently been diagnosed with DLD. He also has a speech disorder. He’s doing well at school so far with reading but struggles to express himself verbally, very poor grammar, poor narrative skills & word finding difficulties.

Are there any sources of information- websites or books you would recommend to a parent?

Also, we were told he would struggle with reading. He’s actually doing well - average in class. His articulation is very poor but he is reading. Are reading problems common with DLD or should we expect problems as he gets older - or is it not related to DLD?

UniversityofBath16 karma

Hi - I'm sorry to hear the recent diagnosis, but I think it's good that you've gotten a diagnosis now rather than in a few years time. I can suggest a few places. First of all, I should mention my new project to try to bring the science of DLD to parents - The Engage with DLD project both helps parents understand more about DLD by summarising key research findings for parents. We are also trying to increase the understanding of DLD by linking parents (and adults with DLD) to new research projects, so we can help learn more about DLD and come up with better treatments in the future. See here: www.engage-dld.com.

There is also the DLD and me (https://dldandme.org) and the DLD Project out of Australia (https://thedldproject.com) - they have great sources of support and help for parents.

Literacy problems are common but not inevitable in DLD. As reading is essentially written language, problems with oral language are very much related. However if he is doing well, I would hope for the best and encourage him to keep reading. But do look out for early signs of problems in the future. Hope this helps

Due_Beautiful23427 karma

Thank you. This is helpful. I have signed up and look forward to learning more. His diagnosis has been a relief in a sense - last year we were told he had a severe expressive delay and he received little input for his language. I’m hoping now that he will get more support.

UniversityofBath3 karma

I hope he'll get some more support now too! Thanks for signing up to the project - it is very much appreciated!

purplecloudsarecool9 karma

Thank you for this AMA! I have a 3 year old who only recently started speaking in 5 word sentences (sometimes and not always comprehensible). I speak Chinese, Dutch and English, the latter two more fluently than the first. I haven't really focused on teaching her Chinese and now she's speaking mostly Dutch (national language) and some English (too much screen time). Is it too late to reintroduce Chinese? Is it important that I become more fluent in order to teach her? Should I speak to her exclusively in one language? How does multilingualism in young children work?

UniversityofBath20 karma

Hi! These are great questions. First the first, it is not too late for her to to learn Chinese, but she will need to hear Chinese consistently in order to learn it. I have a colleague who is in a similar position and she finds reading to her children in the her native language is useful to help scaffold the language, so that might be an idea. She reports that helps her be more fluent in her native language (which she doesn't use in every day contexts). However that is more anactodal than science based! Children can switch easily between different language and won't get confused if you talk in two languages to your child, so don't worry about speaking exclusively in one language. And in general, multilingualism works by children usually learning all languages they are consistently exposed to. However, while research has shown conclusively that bilingual children know the same amount of words in all of their languages compared to monolingual children, these will be spread across all languages. So you child's Dutch and English vocabulary may be less than monolingual peers, but added up will be the same. And in general, your child's proficiency will be dependent on the amount of exposure they receive in each language. If this is less, they may still learn the language, but it may take longer. I hope that helps!

Ogremad7 karma

My nephew is 14 months old and hasn’t spoken a word yet. What are some good ways to inspire him to speak?

UniversityofBath19 karma

Well, first of all, this is entirely normal. There is a wide amount of normal variation in when children say their first words. What I would do to encourage those first words is just to speak lots and often to your nephew and also to encourage his parents to do the same thing. Children will learn language quicker the more language they hear. So up the input and hopefully things will come along naturally. You can do things like narrate car journeys, talk about what you're picking up in the stores and also, of course, singing songs and reading stories are really good ways to talking to and with children. Hope that helps!

drama-llama16 karma

Sorry another question... I have seen reports and comments that’s children with DLD are likely to suffer with mental health as they get older. What is that mainly down to.. is that environment they are in? Lack of support? Poor social skills so less likely to have friends... and is there anything we can do as parents to help reduce the likelihood of that?

Thank you

UniversityofBath10 karma

This is a question at the hear of much of my research! We are actually looking at the the mediating factors that help explain the increased problems in mental health that we do see (on average) in children and adolescents with DLD. We know the severity of the language problems (usually) is not associated with the severity of the mental health difficulties. We do see some evidence in my lab that social skills is a factor that partially explains some of the increased mental health difficulties (you can find a parent summary of that research here: https://www.engage-dld.com/dld-research). Whether some additional variation in mental health outcomes can be due to the environment, a lack of parent or school support, I can't say for certain, but certainly the more support a child gets, the better in my opinion. These are good questions to consider in future.

For you as a parent, I would try to be as supportive as possible and try to ensure your child gets as much support as possible from SLTs and his school. I know this can seem like an uphill battle, but there are a lot of videos out there from adults with DLD and you can see that this does pay off.

And finally, please do remember that the research that does show these increase are talking about GROUP differences - averages. There is still so much variation in the mental health outcomes in adolescents with DLD that mental health difficulties are NOT INEVITABLE! And do look out for a project in the next year or so from my research group that will be conducting a parent intervention program designed specifically to help parents with DLD avoid current and future behavioural and mental health difficulties. Singing up for the Engage with DLD project will ensure you are informed about this intervention when it is launched.

Locktopii5 karma

How would you go about differentiating a speech issue from a language issue and is the difference important?

UniversityofBath11 karma

For speech issues, usually the people closest the child should be able to understand what they're saying. Also, did the child start speaking roughly on time and did they hit the "language" milestones on time? And finally, you can look at whether or not the child understands language well or not. Children with language disorders usually have trouble following complex, multi step instructions for instance (of course, you need to ensure the child is old enough where they should be able to follow these instructions if they don't have language difficulties). Children with speech issues should have no issues at all! There are language checkers that you can use to - for instance, you can check here how a child's language should be developing as they get older: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/helping-your-childs-speech/

blessedalive3 karma

Have you done any research on the opposite end of the spectrum? My daughter knew over 20 animal sounds by 8 months. She was speaking in 2 word sentences at 11 months. By 14 months, she was telling stories (ie. she had a BM in the bathtub and told me ‘A bird did that. It not poop. It a red flower. A bird did it’). By 18 months, she was just plain talking in paragraphs like a preschooler. She is 3 now and still excels in language. She has even taught me a couple words that I have no idea where she learned them! But I don’t believe she is gifted or anything. It is mainly just her language. I was told this could be a sign of Aspergers? Do you have any insight in this? She doesn’t seem to have any trouble with socioemotional development though. She is a little shy and clingy to me in social situations; but she loves playing with other kids a little older than her.

UniversityofBath9 karma

Hi - I do not know of any research into proficient language learners at this early age. I do know of Williams syndrome where children develop amazing language skills, but this in the context of other neurodevelopmental disabilities, which is clearly not the case with your daughter. I would just say that she might have won the lottery of inheriting lots of good genes for language learning! If she hasn't manifested any other signs of Autism or Aspergers by age three, I would not think that likely. Most likely you have a very healthy girl who is just very good at learning language. Girls do tend to do a bit better than boys on average and your girl must just on the high end of the normal distribution!