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Curtin University of Technology
Twins and Multiples

Helping multiples develop language skills

(i) Make a special effort to listen to their early speech and reading on a one-to-one basis or find some other adult such as a grandparent who can help with this. Try sometimes to organise activities like feeding or bathing with just one child, where you can enjoy the language interactions with one and not with them all. Of course the multiples may not want this, but learning to take turns is fundamental to civilised conversation! Think carefully before getting an older brother or sister to help in this, both because their own language may not be fully mature and they have probably already had enough impact on their life, without creating what may be seen as yet another chore.

(ii) Multiples are "cute" and can achieve popularity despite poor language skills. Find ways of ensuring they understand that better speech will help them to have even better interactions with others. Sometimes articulation problems such as lisping can get them even more attention and this is obviously to be discouraged in the listeners as well as in the children!

(iii) Don't let one twin speak for both. If one twin asks for a drink, don't automatically get one for the other child as well until they ask. Try to address the twins individually-you know you are not doing too well if one twin is asked his name and says, "Michaelandjohn".... This becomes even more of an issue in higher multiples, as the chances are greater that there will be significant differences in speech and language.

One mother only realised there was a problem when a grandparent pointed out to her that she was asking the one girl in a set of three year old triplets, "What are your brothers trying to say?". The sister was so tuned into her brothers and their language idiosyncracies that she could "translate" for her mother.

(iv) Don't encourage interrupting or other language or behaviour designed to get attention away from the other twin. While few parents would do this consciously, every time you respond to this approach you are encouraging its recurrence in both twins. Multiple children need to learn two things more than other children, namely to wait and to take turns.

(v) Do not forget other children in the family. If twins are delayed because they have had such an impact on the family situation, then one would expect that brothers and sisters close in age to the twins also may suffer.

Do my Multiples have a language problem?

Fortunately most multiples have no difficulty and this question should not arise. There are two circumstances when proper assessment of speech and language should be sought:

(i) If the child is embarrassed and disturbed by his/her speech at any age.

(ii) If you as the parent or teacher are concerned. It is always better to be safe than sorry and you have a right to have any fears taken seriously.

The accompanying checklist is a basic guide to children's speech development that will help you decide if professional assessment is needed. It is not an absolute test. If multiples are only a little way behind the expected level, do not worry. If they are significantly behind, it is worth contacting a speech therapist for a formal assessment and an evaluation of whether they do need therapy. It is worth finding out if the therapist has worked before with twins and discussing the special issues that may arise. For example if only one child is getting therapy, he/she may be upset at being singled out-or the other multiples may be upset at missing out on something new! All the work by the therapist and the parents may be in vain because of the interactions between the multiples continuing their old and incorrect speech.

Click here to download the Speech and Language Checklist (11k pdf)