Viral Toddler Video Catches Therapist's Eye

By Michael Gehlken
|  Thursday, Mar 31, 2011  |  Updated 7:07 AM PDT
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Viral Toddler Video Catches Therapist's Eye

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New York toddler twins interact in a video that has received millions of views on YouTube.

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Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego was struck by something viral Wednesday afternoon, and its speech-language pathology manager couldn’t be any happier.

Shari Garrett, M.S., took a three-minute break from her usual day devoted to improving underdeveloped communication skills in youth, often caused by an autism spectrum disorder, to watch an Internet video that is sweeping the country.

The footage features 17-month-old twins interacting inside their family’s New York kitchen. They participate in what has the look of an adult conversation, making eye contact, using gestures and taking turns, all while giggling as if they were playing with a brand new set of toys.

“Those things are just candy to me,” Garrett said. “That’s exactly what they should be doing developmentally for real, meaningful speech.”

But are they speaking already?

Given the twins’ apparent mutual understanding during their lengthy babbling exchange, many viewers have speculated the toddlers to be speaking their own language.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time, something Garrett and her staff know first-hand.

In 1977, Children’s Hospital speech therapist Alex Kratze, M.D., discovered twin girls Grace and Virginia Kennedy were partaking in cryptophasia, a language shared by them.

Kratze is currently outside the country and was not available for comment, but Garnett said she and Kratze have spoken about the well-publicized case.

“A lot of (the Kennedy twins’) communication was very distinctive,” said Garrett, who joined the staff in 1985. “They used the same consonants and vowels to mean a specific word, and when they would repeat it later, both of them would know what that meaning was.

“In that video, they were repeating the same consonants and vowels over and over again, and they were varying their intonation …  It looked to me like they were more imitating adult conversation and playing with their intonations and playing with their sounds.”

Garrett called that mutual imitation a “prerequisite to language development,” but she did have one concern about what the video showed — or didn’t show.

She expects language development to begin when children are 12 months old. At 18 months, they should know about 18 words. By age 2, they should know about 50 and be able to compound them to form functional phrases, such as “more water” or “me out.”

In the limited video footage, the toddlers did not demonstrate ability to speak any words.

“So if they’re up to 17 months of age and they don’t have their first words yet, I’m concerned,” Garrett said. “As long as mom and dad are using some one-word modeling, they’ll be fine. But they’re cute as a button. And they’re doing exactly what they should be doing in terms of playing vocally and imitating, so all of that is great.”

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