Early experience found critical for language development

June 17, 2011

We know that poor social and physical environments can harm young children's cognitive and behavioral development, and that development often improves in better environments. Now a new study of children living in institutions has found that intervening early can help young children develop language, with those placed in better care by 15 months showing language skills similar to children raised by their biological parents.

The study, in the journal Child Development, was conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, Ohio University, The Ohio State University, the University of Virginia, Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston, the University of Maryland, and Tulane University.

Researchers studied more than 100 children who were part of the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, a of institutional and foster care in Romania. Historically, institutions there have provided very limited opportunities for language and among children. In this study, about half of the children were placed in foster homes at about 22 months, while the other half continued living in institutions. About 60 typically developing children who lived with their biological families in the same communities served as a comparison group.

"Because institutional care was the norm for these children, it was possible to create a , comparing those in institutional care with those placed in foster care," according to lead author Jennifer Windsor, professor of speech-language-hearing sciences at the University of Minnesota.

The study found that children who were placed in foster care before they turned 2 had substantially greater at age 3-1/2 than children who stayed in institutional care, with those placed by 15 months showing language skills similar to the comparison group. In contrast, children placed in foster care after they turned 2 had the same severe language delays as those who stayed in institutional care.

"This shows that not only is the change to high-quality beneficial for these children, but the timing of the change appears to be important," according to Windsor.

The findings highlight the importance of intervening early to help young children develop language. They also provide insights for parents who adopt internationally. "Many infants and toddlers who are adopted from other countries and come to the United States develop language quickly," Windsor notes. "However, older who have been living in poor care environments may be at high risk for language delays."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Americans misinformed about smoking

August 22, 2017
After voluminous research studies, numerous lawsuits and millions of deaths linked to cigarettes, it might seem likely that Americans now properly understand the risks of smoking.

Newly deciphered vitamin D regulatory pathway opens doors to clinical research

August 21, 2017
Biochemists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have deciphered the molecular mechanisms that underpin how the synthesis of the active form of vitamin D is regulated in the kidney, summing up decades of research in this ...

Women who sexually abuse children are just as harmful to their victims as male abusers

August 21, 2017
"That she might seduce a helpless child into sexplay is unthinkable, and even if she did so, what harm can be done without a penis?"

To reduce postoperative pain, consider sleep—and caffeine

August 18, 2017
Sleep is essential for good mental and physical health, and chronic insufficient sleep increases the risk for several chronic health problems.

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.