Whilst many multiples show no signs of a language delay (which is usually apparent by 24 months of age), occasionally multiple birth children, particularly if they’re male, may be slower than singletons to develop language.
Typically, they are older when they start to speak and use simpler, shorter sentences. In the majority of cases where children’s language is delayed in comparison to their singleton peers, the difference is mild and resolves by itself as they grow. However language difficulties are often associated with a risk of delayed overall development and less successful academic outcomes, therefore it is important to seek advice early if you have any concerns.
Speech and language difficulties occur more often in twins and triplets partly because they are more likely to experience the factors which predispose all children to speech and language difficulties, such as prematurity and pregnancy or birth complications.
But being a twin, triplet or more 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 due to the general care demands being greater when you have two children of the same age
- Rates of postnatal depression are higher which can sometimes reduce parental responsiveness
- 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) which can also be common when there is an older sibling in the household
Although this list seems to suggest that having multiples has a negative impact on speech and language development, there are also some advantageous effects on language development from having multiple birth children which includes having a consistent peer conversational partner from a very young age.
Due to language delay in multiples being primarily due to reduced social experiences (in the absence of any disability), it can normally be prevented or resolved by improving the quality of the language environment.
Ideas on how to do this include:
- Spending 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
- Singing nursery rhymes
- 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 that encourage listening and attention and encourage imaginative play
- Help others to tell your children apart
It is important to remember that having multiples with a language delay is by no means a reflection of parenting skills, as having multiples will result in unique parenting challenges which are different to those of families with singletons.
It is only in very rare and unusual circumstances that multiples continue to use a private language exclusively and advice should be sought at this point.
If you have concerns over your multiples' language delay, you can:
- call our helpline
- contact our Professional Referral Service for Speech and Language Therapy.
- contact the charity Afasic, which supports children with language delay.
- find a local private Speech and Language Therapist through ASLTIP (Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice)
- If you have a child or children with additional support needs, we have an online community support group on Facebook for parents and carers of twins, triplets or more that you might like to join.