Can lack of babbling predict ESSENCE?

small Asian baby on it's stomach

Screening of children’s language ability has been part of a well-functioning routine within Swedish Child Health Care (CHC) for more than 50 years. Almost all children participate in a 2.5-3 year screening at the CHC centers. Longitudinal national research shows that children identified at age 2.5-3 years, still have difficulties with language and literacy and more than half of them also have other neurodevelopmental problems at school age.1 International research has also shown that a diagnosis of language disorder in children has a negative impact on social development, cognitive development and academic achievement. Moreover, language skills are the most important predictor of long term educational, social and vocational achievement for all children, including those with ASD.2

In an ongoing project in Stockholm and Gothenburg called “Jollerkoll” we will test the hypothesis of whether children with delayed language development and/or ESSENCE problems can be detected even earlier by use of a simple method of screening for canonical babbling. Canonical babbling (CB) is an important developmental “milestone” for later language development and consists of well-formed syllables (da, baba, ma, dädä, ga), with a rapid transition between the consonant and the vowel.3 Adults easily recognize CB – it sounds like the child begins to talk. At the latest, typically developing children start using CB at age 10 months, regardless of language background or socioeconomic status. Late onset of canonical babbling (defined as not having reached the canonical babbling stage at 10 months) appears to be associated with later difficulties with speech and language, but also with other developmental disorders.3 Children who do not have CB at 10 months use fewer words and fewer consonants at 2.5 to 3 years of age. Vocabulary and number of different consonants are in turn important for the development of later language abilities.

So far, more than 1000 children have been screened at age 10 months within the “Jollerkoll” project. Children with a positive screening, i.e. those children who lack CB at age 10 months, have then been assessed at age 12 months and at age 18 months focusing on language, motor and cognitive development. All children will also participate in the language screening at age 2.5-3 years and thereafter meet the research team for a final assessment.

This project will shed light on not only speech, language and communication development, but also cognitive/intellectual, socio-emotional and motor development in children identified as early as at age 10 months. We also hope that “Jollerkoll” will provide new knowledge of early signs of language and ESSENCE problems and appropriate intervention when such issues are identified.

The research is conducted in collaboration between Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm and the University of Gothenburg. The principal researcher is Professor Anette Lohmander, KI in collaboration with Carmela Miniscalco, adjunct professor, certified speech and language pathologist, Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Center, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, University of Gothenburg.

Doctoral student carrying out the project is Marion Lieberman, certified speech and language pathologist, KI Stockholm.


1. Miniscalco, C., Nygren, G., Hagberg, B., Kadesjö, B. & Gillberg, C. (2006) Neuropsychiatric outcome of children at age 6 and 7 years who screened positive for language problems at 30 months. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 48:361-366.
2. Tager-Flusberg, H.(2016) Risk Factors Associated With Language in Autism Disorder: Clues to Underlying Mechanisms. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 59: 143-154
3. Oller, D. K., Eilers, R. E., Neal, A. R., & Cobo-Lewis, A. B. (1998). Late onset canonical babbling: a possible early marker of abnormal development. American Journal of Mental Retardation, 103(3), 249-263.

Carmela MiniscalcoBlog post Carmela Miniscalco

Credit: Josefin Bergenholtz

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