Background: The normal development of speech-language is especially challenging for Emirati toddlers, as they are frequently raised by live-in multilingual caretakers.
Methods: In this community-based study, we screened preschool Emirati children for delayed expressive language and associated socio-emotional/behavioral problems. Arabic versions of the Language Development Survey and Child Behavior Checklist for ages 1.5-5 years were validated before being used in this study. The data collection instruments (questionnaires) were completed by primary caregivers in the presence of trained staff. Delayed language was defined as a vocabulary size fewer than 20 words at 18-23 months or fewer than 50 words at 24-35 months.
Results: One hundred fifty two children (median-age, 26 months; 53% females) were enrolled in this study. Fifty-six percent of 18-23 month-old children had vocabulary size ≥ 20 words, 48% of the 24-29 month-old had vocabulary size ≥ 50 words and 46% of the 30-35 month-old had vocabulary size ≥ 50 words. Fifty four percent of 24-34 month-old children used combining words; with an average (SD) length-of-phrases of 3.9 (1.1), median=4.0; range=2.0-6.0. Household words (e.g. bed) were most common and exterior words (e.g. flowers) were least common. Vocabulary size was not significantly associated with gender, socioemotional variables or behavioral problems.
Conclusion: Many toddlers with potential delayed speech-language were identified. They require further assessment and intervention, when indicated. Appropriate language screening strategies should be implemented in the childhood health supervision visits. Comprehensive studies of functional use of language for communication, discrimination and production of speech sounds and acquisition of reading and writing skills are greatly needed in our region.