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Speech delays common among infants given smartphones to play with

Friday 28th July 2017
Infants who use smartphones are more likely to experience speech development delays, research shows. Image: poplasen via iStock
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Young children who spend a lot of time using tablets and smartphones are more likely to experience delays in the development of their speech, according to a recent study.

Research carried out at the University of Toronto has led to the discovery that regular use of handheld technology can cause significant delays to children's speech.

The results of the study, which were presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting earlier this year, showed that for every extra 30 minutes a child spent using a handheld device such as a smartphone each day, their risk of delayed expressive speech increased by 49 per cent.

This was based on the observation of 894 children over a four-year period, all of whom were aged between six months and two years at the investigation's outset. The research was led by Julia Ma and titled 'Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants?'.

When attending their 18-month check-ups, one-fifth of the infants were reported to use a handheld device for an average of 28 minutes each day. The researchers used a screening tool to monitor speech and language delay, finding that the children who spent the longest amount of time on mobile devices were most likely to experience delays in speech development.

However, increased use of handheld technology was not found to have any impact on their understanding and use of body language or social interactions, with only participants' speech affected.

The study's principal investigator Dr Catherine Birken stated: "Handheld devices are everywhere these days. While new paediatric guidelines suggest limiting screen time for babies and toddlers, we believe that the use of smartphones and tablets with young children has become quite common.

"This is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay."

Written by Martin Lambert

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