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Approach to language development delay in children often ineffective

15 September 2010

Language stimulation is not always the best way to reduce language problems. Many young children with a suspected language development delay turn out to have a different problem altogether. They may, for instance, have a hearing problem or a general delay in their development. Many mothers worry needlessly about the language development of their child, as demonstrated by research conducted by Anne Keegstra, Special Education Expert at the University Medical Center Groningen. She will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 22 September 2010.

Language stimulation programmes are often used in the Netherlands. Children with a suspected language development delay are offered language games and exercises in approaches such as Piramide and Kaleidoscoop. In addition, they are read to and encouraged in craftwork activities. It appears now, however, that these programmes are not always effective. Anne Keegstra examined 136 children in the first year of four primary schools in Groningen and Rotterdam, and concludes that only children with a non-Dutch background who are insufficiently exposed to the Dutch language benefit from the programmes. Different help is therefore required in many cases.


Many young children with a suspected language development delay turn out to have different problems. They may, for instance, have a hearing problem as a result of a fluid build-up behind the eardrums. In these cases, grommets bring relief. They may, however, also have a general delay in their development. In this case as well, language stimulation alone is not sufficient as it is the general development that needs attention. Keegstra: ‘Language development in young children has its own dynamics and cannot always be speeded up.’

More profound examination

‘The cause of language development delay is often not analysed thoroughly enough’, Keegstra argues. In many cases, a distinction is only made between verbal and non-verbal language development, whereas it is language production, language comprehension and cognitive development that should be examined. Keegstra: ‘There may be very specific problems, such as an inadequate vocabulary or articulation problems. Only if you thoroughly analyze these problems can you provide the appropriate help.’

Worried mothers

Keegstra also examined the ideas parents have about language development delays. It turns out that mothers in particular often worry about them. Keegstra: ‘A lot of attention is paid to language development. Mothers in particular are afraid that their child will not start talking on time, which would harm its school career and general development.’ But, as it turns out, this fear is often groundless. ‘My research proves that there is no connection between language problems and behavioural problems. This seems to indicate that language delay in a child does not necessarily imply a delay in its general development.’

Curriculum vitae

Anne Keegstra (Winsum, 1979) studied Orthopedagogy at the University of Groningen. She carried out her research at the Department of Otorhinolaryngology of the University Medical Center Groningen. After the thesis defence, she will continue working at the UMCG as a special education expert and researcher. The title of her thesis is: ’Language problems in young children. General assumptions investigated’. Her supervisors are Prof. S.M. Goorhuis-Brouwer and Dr W.J. Post.

Note for the press

Contact: via the UMCG press officers, telephone number 050-361 2200, e-mail:


Last modified:15 September 2017 3.29 p.m.

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