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For Immediate Release

Risk Factors for Speech Delays Identified by Children’s Hospital in Children Age 3

New findings show three variables elevate risk of speech delay in some children

Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh have conducted a first-of-its-kind study that has identified three risk factors that increase the likelihood of speech delays in healthy 3-year-olds.

Children with a family history of developmental communication impairment, children whose mothers did not graduate from high school and boys were about twice as likely to have speech delays as children without these factors. A child with all three of these risk factors was nearly eight times as likely to have a speech delay as a child without any of them. None of the other variables studied significantly increased the risk of speech delay at age 3.

These findings were published in the latest issue of Child Development, the main publication of the Society for Research in Child Development.

Parents whose children have speech delays are understandably eager to find the cause of the problem, said Thomas F. Campbell, PhD, chief, audiology and communication disorders at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Many children have substantial difficulties in acquiring understandable speech despite having normal-range hearing, intelligence and neurological development.

Researchers studied 639 children at age 3 from 1990-2003. The study was designed to determine whether 100 children with speech delays differed from the 539 children with normal speech in their exposure to six potential risk factors. The six risk factors are: male gender, low maternal educational level, low socioeconomic status, African-American ethnicity, a history of developmental communication disorder in the immediate family and prolonged otitis media (middle ear disease).

“Preschool speech delays have been associated with reading and academic difficulties in a number of studies, and that is one of the reasons why these findings are important,” said Dr. Campbell. “For doctors and clinicians, the study suggests that it may be prudent to monitor children who have one or more of the significant risk factors carefully to ensure that their speech is developing normally, or to intervene earlier if it is not.”

Marc Lukasiak, 412-692-5016,
Melanie Finnigan, 412-692-5016,

Last Update
February 20, 2008
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Last Update
February 20, 2008