Numerous studies have established that twins, triplets and other sets of multiples have a higher likelihood of speech delays. (It’s also more common in identical twins and multiples than in fraternal.)
Speech and language delays are characterized as a child having speech or language skills that are below their age and gender expectations. Typically, this means they have shorter utterance lengths, fewer words and less overall attempts to talk/communicate. On the whole, language development among twins has been found to be about 1.7 months behind single babies at 20-months-old and 3.1 months behind at 3 years of age. There’s even a name for this phenomenon: The “twinning effect.”
No one knows exactly why it happens, but our Akron speech therapists know numerous theories have been floated and studied, including:
- Prematurity/birth complications. Both of these can increase the risk of speech delays.
- Divided caregiver attention. Parents are less able to give attention to each child because it’s divided by two babies/toddlers at once (leading to the children hearing less words, having one-on-one interaction, fewer stories, etc.).
- Genetics. Higher likelihood of inherited causes of speech delays.
- “Twin talk.” These are invented words, gestures, simple syntax that twins and multiples use to talk to each other. Sometimes, they are SO effective at communicating with each other without words that their language and speech development may be delayed.
- Personality differences. If one twin is more outgoing and the other more shy, the shy twin may develop speech and language skills at a slower rate.
- One twin/multiple is the “spokesperson.” We see this a lot too with children who have older siblings who “speak” for them. But this can be detrimental to the speech and language development of the other/younger children because they aren’t motivated to verbalize their own needs or feelings.