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Speech Delay In Babies And Toddlers May Be Blamed On Mobile Devices Like Smartphones And iPads

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Playing with an iPad is not exactly the healthiest thing for babies and toddlers. Findings of a new study have revealed that exposure to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets may lead to speech delays in young children.

Young Children's Exposure To Mobile Devices

Researchers of the study, which was presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, said that many children in the United States start using electronic devices before they even start to talk and these kids are at increased risk for delay in expressive language.

The researchers said that while pediatric guidelines suggest limiting the time babies and toddlers spend on screen, use of smartphones and tablets has become quite common in young children.

An earlier study has shown that many parents hand over mobile devices such as iPads and smartphones to pacify children who have tantrums. A 2015 survey involving 300 parents from low-income and minority communities also revealed that more than a quarter of 2-year-olds use mobile devices for about one hour per day.

In the new research, Catherine Birken, from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and colleagues involved nearly 900 children between the age of 6 months and 2 years over a four-year period and found that 20 percent of 18-month old children spend on average of about 28 minutes using handheld devices every day.

Using a screening tool for language delay, Birken and colleagues also found that the more time a child spends on these mobile devices, the more likely he or she is to experience delays in expressive speech. Expressive speech refers to how a person uses sounds and words and how they put their words together to communicate with others.

The researchers found that for every 30-minute increase in screen time, there was a 49 percent risk for expressive speech delay in the child. Birken and colleagues though did not find an association between mobile device screen time and other communication delays such as body language, gestures, and social interactions.

Impacts Of Speech Delay In Children

Experts cited several unwanted impacts of speech problem in kids. Jenny Radesky, from the University of Michigan who was not part of the study, said that children who can't express themselves can get really frustrated and this influences a child's ability to define emotions and put concepts into words.

"They are more likely to act out more or to use their bodies to try to communicate or use attention-seeking behaviors," Radesky said.

Language delays may also affect literacy skills in grade school and have been associated with later academic problems.

The researchers said that their findings support a policy recommendation made by the American Academy of Pediatrics that discourage exposure to any type of screen media for children under 18 months old.

The findings, however, did not prove a causal link and researchers said that further investigation is needed to probe into the relationship between speech delay and screen exposure in kids.

"Infants with more handheld screen time have an increased risk of an expressive speech delay. Additional research is needed to inform recommendations limiting handheld screen time in infants," the researchers wrote in their study.

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