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Adult Talk Tied to Improved Language Skills for Preemies

Update Date: Feb 10, 2014 03:41 PM EST
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Several studies have found that premature babies have an increased risk of suffering from language delays. In order to combat this risk, researchers from a new study are reporting that parents should use adult talk with their preemies. The researchers concluded that exposure to adult talk starting in the neonatal intensive care unit could increase a premature infant's language development and abilities by the time they reach 18-months-old.

For this study, senior author Dr. Betty Vohr, a professor of pediatrics at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University in Providence, RI and fellow colleagues recruited 36 premature but stable infants. The average age was 27 weeks with an average weight of 2.7 pounds. The researchers focused on recording 16 hours worth of sounds that the infants heard at five and at nine weeks after they were born. The time span represented the 32nd and 36th weeks of gestation if the infant was not born early.

"Children learn from conversations going on around them, but the back and forth communication is the most important," said Vohr. "Parents can make such a difference. Early language predicts language skills later on."

The sounds included adult words, conversational turns, which occurred when an adult sound was heard within five seconds after the infant made a vocal sound or vice versa, and child vocalizations. The researchers stated that crying was not considered vocalization. At 32 weeks, the researchers found that for an infant, the average word count heard was 1,289, the average conversational turns was 15 and the average child vocalizations was 77. By week 36, these average rates for adult words heard, conversational turns and child vocalizations rose to 8,255, 36 and 153 respectively.

The team then assessed the infants' language skills when they would have been seven and 18-months-old if they were born full term. The team discovered that at 32 weeks, for every set of 100 adult words that the infant was exposed it, there was a two-point increase in language scores. At 36 weeks, every 100 adult words boosted language scores by 1.2 points at seven-months-old.

"Parents have the power to make a difference in their child's development and academic success. Just by enjoying your child -- singing, playing, telling stories -- while riding in the car or having dinner, sharing your day with them," said the Vohr, according to Philly. "We need to provide more information to families about the importance of talking to babies."

The findings were published in Pediatrics.

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