Talk With Me Baby

Improve Your Childs Language Nutrition

Approximately two-thirds of children do not read proficiently by the end of the third grade. Food isn’t the only type of nutrition that babies need; the solution to this problem may lay within the loving words babies are “fed” by their caregivers early on in life.

Language Nutrition is crucial for babies as they grow and develop. It has a significant impact on their early brain development and later success in school, including critical benchmarks for reading. Children begin to incorporate lessons and information from the environment very early on. In the first three years of life, a baby’s brain experiences rapid growth. In the first 18 months alone, a baby’s brain grows nearly 80 percent. Exposure to healthy language as early as the mother’s third trimester of pregnancy heavily impact and benefit a child.

Jennifer Stapel-Wax, PsyD
Jennifer Stapel-Wax, PsyD

According to Jennifer Stapel-Wax, PsyD, Associate Professor in the Division of Autism and Related Disorders at Emory University Department of Pediatrics and Director of Infant and Toddler Clinical Research Operations in the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, feeding children healthy words is crucial and involves quality, quantity, timing, context, and engagement. “There’s this dance that a baby and caregiver get into which is all about the social communications and the use of language—both gestural and verbal—to characterize the world around them, and that is building the baby’s connections in the brain,” said Stapel-Wax.

To ensure that every child is “fed” the language that they need to grow and thrive, the Talk With Me Baby (TWMB) partnership was formed between Marcus Autism Center and five other entities: Georgia’s Department of Public Health and Department of Education, Atlanta Speech School’s Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, Emory School of Nursing and Department of Pediatrics, and the Get Georgia Reading Campaign.

TWMB is a population-based approach that involves various components intended to raise awareness for and increase language nutrition, including a website, educational curriculum, training materials, and more. TWMB also leverages help from populations that come into frequent contact with babies and parents, such as nurses, nutritionists, social workers, and educators. “Each partner organization was approaching the area of early brain development and readiness for kindergarten in their own ways,” noted Stapel-Wax, whose specific area of background involves infants and toddlers, which complements TWMB’s mission. “At Marcus Autism Center, we have always been interested in early brain development as it relates to children going off the trajectory of being typical towards a condition like Autism,” she said.

Baby Photo

More recently, partners have developed an application for mobile phones. The application aims to coach parents on what they can do to increase language nutrition in everyday life. It informs parents about scientific knowledge involving brain development, tracks developmental milestones, produces notifications, and provides specific phrases that parents can use with their children in different environments, such as at the park or during bath time. For instance, if a baby is in the bath, the application may suggest conversation starters like, “Splashing can make things wet!”

“Everything you do when your baby is with you becomes an opportunity,” said Stapel-Wax. TWMB will provide the unique opportunity to study what happens if we encourage greater quantity and quality of talk between caregivers and babies. For establishing a habit of parents talking to their babies, earlier is better. The hope is that, with increased language nutrition, children will experience better outcomes.

Justin Burns, the Licensing Associate that oversees the TWMB technology for the Office of Technology Transfer added, “As not only a technology manager, but also a parent of young kids, I’m excited by software apps like this that encourage new ways for parents to engage with their children. I look forward to seeing where this technology goes next.”

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