Mexican American preschoolers fall behind their white counterparts in terms of early language and preliteracy skills, but the social competencies between the two groups are indistinguishable, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA.
The findings illuminate how Mexican American toddlers and preschoolers grow and develop, and in a report published this week in the Maternal Child Health Journal, the researchers caution teachers, pediatricians and other health care providers to “not assume social-emotional delays, even when language or cognitive skills lag somewhat behind.”
The UC pediatricians and child development specialists tracked a nationwide sample of 4,700 children born in 2001 over a three-year period, when they were between ages 2 and 5 and not yet kindergarteners. Two-thirds of these children were of Mexican descent. Just under one-fifth (19 percent) of them had at least one parent of Latino heritage.
The researchers found startling evidence: Mexican American toddlers between ages 2 and 3 displayed language and cognitive skills about eight months behind those of their white peers, whether assessed in English or Spanish. This gap persisted through ages 4 and 5, with Mexican American children entering kindergarten already behind.
But the explanation may not rest with the youngsters, said UCLA pediatrician and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics Alma Guerrero, who co-directed the new study.
“The slight schooling of Mexican-heritage mothers, juggling more young children at home, and weak traditions of reading with one’s child, conspire to suppress early language and cognitive growth,” Guerrero said.