Gadgets blamed for rise in child speech problems

London: A large study has revealed that the number of children with speech difficulties has leapt 70 per cent in six years.

The study, published by the Department of Education, blames growing use of screen-based gadgets as convenient ‘babysitters’ and a trend for hard-working parents to spend less time with their children for the rise, the Daily Mail reported.

The Government-funded study revealed that the number of schoolchildren needing expert help for speech and language difficulties rose 71 per cent between 2005 - when reliable records began - and 2011.

The analysis, part of the Better Communication Research Programme, found that 2.2 per cent of youngsters aged five to 16 were classed as having difficulties in 2011 - some 135,700.

The children’s charity I CAN cited that other studies had suggested that 1.2million youngsters of all ages across the UK have some form of communication problem.

They include children with specific conditions that lead to speech problems and others whose environment may play a part in their language difficulties.

The charity said that 50 per cent of children in some parts of the UK - particularly areas of social disadvantage - start school with delayed language.

Jean Gross, the Government’s former speech and language tsar and a trustee of I CAN, said the sharp rise in cases of speech difficulties was likely to be down to 21st century living, as well as better identification by parents and schools.

Screen-based technology - including TVs, games consoles, smartphones and computers - was increasingly used to occupy children instead of traditional family activities such as learning nursery rhymes and eating together, she warned.

Meanwhile both mothers and fathers were increasingly working long hours to make ends meet, forcing them to rely on childcare which can be patchy in quality.

Many reasons had been put forward to explain the trend, including the demise of family meal times and even the advent of central heating, which put an end to the days of families congregating around the fire in one room, she said.