Screening for developmental language disability in 3-year-old children. Experiences from a field study in a Swedish municipality

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SummaryThis study evaluates a screening instrument for identification of severe developmental language disability (DLD) in 3-year-old children, which is used as a routine assessment at several child health centres (CHCs) in Sweden. The results are reported in terms of clinical outcome (false- and true-positive rates), kind and extent of DLD, signs of comorbidity and relation between nurses' and parents' observations. More than 60 CHC nurses, all with experience of the screening instrument, assessed in all 2359 3-year-old children (98% of the whole population) by direct observation of their language comprehension, language production and level of co-operation. In addition to the screening parents answered a questionnaire. Children who failed the screening had their hearing assessed and were clinically examined by trained speech and language therapists. Forty-four (34 boys and ten girls) of the 65 referred children were clinically examined. Apart from two false-positive cases most of them were diagnosed as generally and severely language disabled. According to the nurses' observations attention deficit was common among the referred boys, which was later confirmed by the speech therapist in two-thirds of them. Agreement between nurses and parents was poor and only half of the parents were concerned about their child's language development. In the light of this result, continued application of the screening and the use of parent questionnaires is discussed.

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