Background: Early detection and remediation of language disorders are important in helping children to establish appropriate communicative and social behaviour and acquire additional information about the world through the use of language. In the Netherlands, children with (a suspicion of) language disorders are referred to speech and hearing centres for multidisciplinary assessment. Reliable data are needed on the nature of language disorders, as well as the age and source of referral, and the effects of cultural and socioeconomic profiles of the population served in order to plan speech and language therapy service provision.
Aims: To provide a detailed description of caseload characteristics of children referred with a possible language disorder by generating more understanding of factors that might influence early identification.
Methods & Procedures: A database of 11,450 children was analysed consisting of data on children, aged 2–7 years (70% boys, 30% girls), visiting Dutch speech and hearing centres. The factors analysed were age of referral, ratio of boys to girls, mono‐ and bilingualism, nature of the language delay, and language profile of the children.
Outcomes & Results:Results revealed an age bias in the referral of children with language disorders. On average, boys were referred 5 months earlier than girls, and monolingual children were referred 3 months earlier than bilingual children. In addition, bilingual children seemed to have more complex problems at referral than monolingual children. They more often had both a disorder in both receptive and expressive language, and a language disorder with additional (developmental) problems.
Conclusions & Implications: This study revealed a bias in age of referral of young children with language disorders. The results implicate the need for objective language screening instruments and the need to increase the awareness of staff in primary child healthcare of red flags in language development of girls and multilingual children aiming at earlier identification of language disorders in these children.