By Dorothy P. Dougherty
Chances are you want to provide a wonderful environment for your children to learn and grow. But your life is busy. Your twins need to be bathed, dressed, fed and nurtured. And when you’re not caring for your little ones, there’s your housework, shopping, cooking, and laundry. Perhaps there’s a job too – and the resulting runs to the sitter and daycare. Luckily, all children learn to talk. It’s something that comes naturally, right? Not always. Some children talk late. Some children need speech therapy. And all children need help from their parents to reach their highest potential.
Learning to Talk – What to Expect
Twins acquire language just as single-born children do, however, sometimes they develop it at somewhat slower pace. Even though twins tend to make sounds and gestures to each other early, they often say their first word (other than “mama” or “dada”) about a month later than most single born children. In a recent study on language skills, researchers concluded three to five year old twins may be, on average, about six months behind single-born peers. The good news is that by age five, most twins, who are developing language normally, differ very little from their single born age peers.
To a twin, language is a way to bring closeness and intimacy with each other, and can often be very rewarding. In some cases, twins appear to talk together using words and sentences that only the two of them can understand. Research has shown this “twin talk” is not a private invented language, but actually a persistent use of immature or incorrect speech patterns.
Many children often create some words of their own, or use incorrect vocabulary, grammar, and syntax when they are learning to talk. Since twins usually spend a lot of time together, and have a strong desire to communicate with each other, they listen to each other saying words incorrectly often. Sometimes, these troublesome words grow more and more distorted and, as a result, the twins are the only ones who are able to understand them.
Twin language is not a cause of language delay, but may be an indication that your child may have a difficult time learning to talk. A British study showed that approximately 50% of twins who have speech and language difficulties may use twin language. Only 11% of twins who are developing language on schedule use twin language.
If your twins are using “twin language” to communicate with each other, it is very important they are also developing the communication skills that are necessary to communicate effectively with others. Therefore, your twins should be understanding and expressing new words at least every few weeks and using these words to communicate with others.
Taking Steps to Avoid Delays
It has been documented that speech and language difficulties are more common in twins than in single born children. However, this certainly does not mean that your twins will have speech and language delays. Experts believe that sometimes these delays may be due to the social and biological factors listed below that can effect any child, born a twin, or not.
1. Twins usually don’t have as many chances as single born children to interact directly and individually with their parents. They often participate in three-way conversations in which they communicate with either the parent or the other twin.
Solution: Try to schedule as much time as you can talking and playing with each child along. There is no need to schedule special outings, but instead, use your daily routine activities. While bathing, feeding, or dressing your child, count toes, sing songs and rhymes, and talk with your child. Take one child to the supermarket. As your child sits in the cart facing you, this is a great time to talk about what you are seeing, feeling, doing, and touching. If one of your twins has a tendency to talk for the other, this will give both children a chance to practice talking.
Answer questions and give directions to each twin individually. Before you begin to speak, say his or her name, or use another attention getter, such as a tap on the shoulder. Make eye contact. When your twin responds, praise him or her individually.
2. Twins often copy each other’s poor syntax and mispronunciation of words. This is because when communicating with each other, they often omit the beginning and ending sounds of words and use short phrases.
Solution: Some parents think that their twins’ mispronunciation of words are cute and, in their attempt to be included, they repeat incorrect pronunciations or grammatical errors. Instead, it is wise to give your child many opportunities to hear words pronounced correctly. If your child says a word incorrectly, don’t ask him to “say it again.” Instead, say the correct pronunciation, emphasizing the word or sound with which he had difficulty. For example, if your child says, “Me do to pool,” try saying, “I g-go to the pool.” Emphasize “I” by saying it louder and emphasize the “g” sound in “go” by stretching it.
Expand your child’s words or phrases into full sentences. Repeat what your child says and add one or two words. Don’t change your child’s meaning, but, instead, make her remarks slightly longer. For example:
Adult using expansion: “Yes, blue hat.”
3. Twins usually have a unique closeness and don’t interact with peers very much.
Solution: Give your children many opportunities to interact separately with other children. Try to arrange play dates. This may provide wonderful opportunities to develop social and language skills. Your child may begin to model the speech of other children and communicate effectively with his age peers.
4. Twins are often born premature and subject to developmental delay.
Solution: If you have any questions about your child’s development in any area, at any age, it is important to seek professional help. Expecting too much, or too little, can both be harmful. You might start by expressing your concerns with your pediatrician. This may set your mind at ease if you learn that your children are developing as they should, or help you decide to get needed help at an early age. If your children are two years or younger, you can call your local school district for a referral to the early intervention services in your area or find listings in your county by looking in the government pages of your phone book under Education or Health Department. If your children are three-five years of age, call your local school district to request an evaluation.
All parents, no matter how busy they are, want their children to grow fully in each stage of development. In order for your children to develop a love spoken and written language, it is important to read, sing, and talk to them often. When you create a learning environment that is fun, loving, and nurturing for your children, the benefits will last a lifetime.
Dorothy P. Dougherty, M.A.,CCC-SLP is a Speech/Language Pathologist who has worked with children and adults in clinical and private settings for over 25 years. She is the author of Teach Me How to Say it Right: Helping Your Child with Articulation Problems (New Harbinger Publications, 2005) and How to Talk to Your Baby: A Guide to Maximizing Your Child’s Language and Learning Skills (Perigee/Putnam, 2000). www.1speechproblems.com.