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Survey of up to 3000 children underway

University of Canterbury survey of up to 3000 children underway

February 18, 2013

A University of Canterbury (UC) survey of up to 3000 children will help provide the first comprehensive study on early language development in New Zealand.

UC professor of communication disorders Tom Klee said today scant factual information was available about early language development in children growing up in New Zealand.

``We don’t know when Kiwi children actually first start using words on average or when they start combining words into short sentences. We would like to know how many words New Zealand toddlers know when they are two and a half years old.

``We are hoping to have answers to basic questions such as these at the end of this nationwide study,’’ Professor Klee said.

New Zealand professionals who worked with young children, such as speech and language therapists, early childhood educators and developmental psychologists, have had to rely on studies of American, British and Australian children rather than data from New Zealand communities.

The comprehensive study will provide information gathered from New Zealand children so that professionals do not have to rely on overseas data any more.

``We are focusing on the 16 to 30 month age group in the hope of finding out what to look for in children having difficulty learning to talk.

``If a child is two and isn’t saying many words yet, or isn’t joining words into small sentences yet, should we be concerned? Should we do something about it? Without knowing what the early language milestones are for children in New Zealand, it’s difficult to assess the situation when a child isn’t talking like other children of his or her age. It’s difficult to know what advice to give parents.

``We’re asking parents of 16 and 30 month old children to complete a questionnaire on our website at

``We don’t know yet if our children speak slower or faster than children from other countries because we don’t have research data to draw on yet. When this study is finished we will be able to compare the language development of New Zealand children to children from other countries.’’

Professor Klee said many children had difficulties in learning to talk. Delays in early talking could sometimes be the first sign of problems in other areas such as hearing, learning or developing relationships with other children.

Knowing what most children do and at what age was the first step in solving the problem of what to look for in children with developmental problems.

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