Clefts possible early predictors of language problems in infants
MedWire News: Infants with clefts have different crying patterns than those without, possibly giving an early indication of language development problems, researchers report.
The rhythm and melody of an infant's cries are thought to change from around 9 weeks of age and in response to the sounds the infant is exposed to. It has been suggested that changes in an infant's cry are an early form of language learning; supporting this, it has been shown that lack of melodic complexity in crying by the second month of life strongly predicts poor language performance at 2 years of age.
Noting this, Kathleen Wermke (Julius-Maximilians University, Würzberg, Germany) and colleagues hypothesised that understanding the earliest forms of speech development could lead to novel means of preventing language impairment commonly seen in children with orofacial clefts.
The investigators studied recordings of 1457 episodes of crying from 21 infants aged from 37 to 60 days with non-syndromic clefts, including 10 infants with cleft palates and 11 infants with cleft lips and palates. An additional 5814 recordings of 50 infants of approximately the same age who had no palate deformities were also examined.
As reported in The Cleft Palate - Craniofacial Journal, cry melodies were not significantly different between children with cleft palates and those with cleft lips and palates. The cries did differ from those of children without clefts, however, with less complex melodies and less variation in rhythm in those with clefts than in those without.
Since most of the infants with clefts also had hearing impairments, the researchers investigated whether the difference in cry melody and rhythm could be due to differences in hearing. But this analysis suggested that primary changes in jaw and lip structure are the cause of the delayed development of cry complexity, rather than hearing impairments.
Summarizing, the authors say that their findings "may possibly help to identify children more susceptible to the variables that influence future language development."
Alternatively, they suggest that the findings "might prove valuable in helping to focus the search for currently unidentified neurological or genetic factors that are associated with clefting."
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By Philip Ford