Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children

SAN FRANCISCO - As the number of smart phones, tablets, electronic games and other handheld screens in U.S. homes continues to grow, some children begin using these devices before beginning to talk. New research being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting suggests these children may be at higher risk for speech delays.

ABSTRACT

TITLE: Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants?

Background: In recent years young children have been increasingly exposed to various handheld devices. The relationship between television time and expressive language delay is well established in young children. Studies examining the relationship between handheld screen time and language outcomes in infants are lacking.

Objective: To determine the association between handheld screen time and communication problems in children 6-24 months of age.

Design/Methods: A cross-sectional study design was used. Parents of children 6-24 months participating in the TARGet Kids! practice based research network were included during scheduled health supervision visits between September 2011 and December 2015. Parents reported their child's typical daily handheld screen time use and communication problems were assessed by the Infant Toddler Checklist (ITC), a validated questionnaire for detecting expressive speech delay and other communication concerns. Expressive speech delay was indicated by a score below the 10th percentile in the speech domain of the ITC and other communication concerns were indicated by a score below the 10th percentile in the symbolic, social or the total score of the ITC. A logistic regression model was used to examine the association between handheld screen time and communication problems adjusted for the covariates infant non-handheld screen time, parent handheld screen time, infant temperament, maternal education, and family income.

Results: This study included 1077 children with a median age of 18.4 months; 580 (54%) were male. 744 (69%) children did not have any handheld screen time while 219 (20%) had a daily mean handheld device use of 27.8 minutes (SD=33.5). Adjusting for covariates, we identified a significant association between handheld screen time and expressive speech delay (OR=1.49, 95% CI: 1.02-2.16); this relationship was more pronounced among children who reported any handheld screen time (OR=2.11, 95% CI: 1.10-4.05). No relationship was observed between handheld screen time and other communication delays in infants for the entire cohort (OR=0.86, 95% CI: 0.54-1.39) and among those with any handheld screen time (OR=0.73, 95% CI: 0.27-1.96).

Conclusion(s): Infants with more handheld screen time have an increased risk of an expressive speech delay. Additional research is needed to inform recommendations limiting handheld screen time in infants.

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