Speech Delays and Issues for Multiples
Multiples (i.e., twins) are more likely than single birth children to experience delayed speech development. It is not uncommon for twins to exhibit “baby talk” (i.e., imprecise enunciation, incomplete sentences, etc.) beyond the age at which most single births have mastered basic enunciation, sentence structure, and other basic components of speech. What can parents of multiples do to help their children master our spoken language?
First, parents must assess the degree of the speech delay or issue and understand what is likely causing the speech delay or issue. Regarding causation, consider the following:
Many twins exhibit “twin speak”, which is to say that the twins have developed a language that is all their own, and they can communicate effectively with one another using that language. Twin speak diminishes a young child’s need to communicate with parents using the language of their parents as their communication needs are met using twin speak with their twin. Thus, these twins have less motivation to learn the language of their parents.
Young twins are more time-intensive than young single births. The result is that each twin typically gets less of his/her parents’ one-on-one attention than does a single birth child. This can inhibit the development of language skills.
Little girls (whether single birth or a multiple) tend to develop language skills earlier than little boys.
Shy children (whether single birth or a multiple) tend to develop language skills later than gregarious children.
Parents may wish to consult with their children’s pediatrician, a speech therapist, or other resource in their community when assessing their children’s degree of speech delay or issue and its causation.
Next, parents should seek wise counsel from the resource(s) they have used from the first step above. Is speech therapy appropriate? Can your resource provide you with a recommendation or referral to the best children’s speech therapist in your locale? What other professional advice and resources are available to you?
Then, you should provide your multiples with language learning tools in your home. Below are some suggestions.
Talk with (not just to) your multiples often, and do so using proper speech. One-way speech (i.e., you talk and your children listen) isn’t as helpful as some have thought. Multiples can learn to understand words spoken by others via television, radio, and parental one-way speech, but for multiples (and single births) to understand how to speak themselves, dialogue (two-way speech in which each party to the conversation speaks) must occur. Therefore, engage your multiples in dialogue as often as you reasonably can. For example, as you are preparing dinner, you may say, “I think I’ll add a little cinnamon to this pudding. Does that sound good? Oh, that reminds me, don’t you have a little friend whose name is Cinnamon? Maybe we should set a play date for you and Cinnamon. What would you like?”
Read aloud to your multiples every night at bedtime. As you read the stories, interrupt your reading to ask questions of your multiples. “Do you think it was nice of Georgina to do that?” “What would you have done if you had been in her shoes?” “What do you think will happen next?”
When one of your multiples speaks baby talk to you, repeat what was said, but do so using correct speech. For example, if Justina points to the cookie jar and says “Wan’ cookie!”, your reply would be, “Are you saying, ‘I want a cookie!’?” If Justina utters gibberish and continues pointing at the cookie jar, do not give Justina the cookie. It is important for Justina to begin trying to request her cookie like a big girl. You shouldn’t withhold the cookie until she can ask for the cookie 100% correctly, but you should prompt Justina to try to speak correctly and reward her sincere effort with the requested cookie.
If one of your twins speaks for the other twin, speak with both twins about how important it is that both twins learn to speak for themselves. Then, if the verbal twin subsequently says something on behalf of the non-verbal twin, you can turn to the non-verbal twin and ask, “Sally says you would like to play in the backyard. Is that right? I’d like to hear you say that you want to play in the backyard. Can you say that for me, please?”
By following these steps, and keeping in good contact with the resources available to you (i.e., speech therapists), you can help your multiples overcome speech delays and issues.