News & Commentary

Tots’ Language Skills Not Worth Testing


Frank Diamond

Testing for speech and language delays and disorders in children under age 6 isn’t effective, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The task force says that the evidence is not sufficient and that “the balance of benefits and harms of screening for speech and language delays and disorders in young children cannot be determined.”

The USPSTF guideline noted that differentiating between delays and disorders is complicated: “First, screening instruments have difficulty distinguishing between the two. Second, while the majority of school-age children with language disorders present with language delays as toddlers, some children outgrow their language delay.”

The task force looked at studies of the accuracy of screening tools, the benefits or harms of screening, and how effective various treatment options might be. The variety of the tools studied and outcomes measured made comparisons and an overall assessment difficult.

Still, the task force noted that the risk of poor outcomes is greater for children whose disorders persist past early childhood and for those who have lower IQ scores and language impairments rather than just speech impairments. It also mentioned that children who are diagnosed with language delays may have more problems with behavior and psychosocial adjustments, which may persist into adulthood.

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