TOO much time in front of iPads, computers and televisions is harming language development of babies and young children, an Oxford speech therapist has warned.

Nicola Lathey, who runs the Owl Therapy Centre in Oxford, has what the author believes is the first-ever language development guide for parents with techniques that can be used from the womb until four years of age.

Small Talk, co-written with her friend and fellow parent, Tracey Blake, aims to be a speech development Bible, bringing the art of conversation back into households with young children.

Mrs Lathey, 37, of Abingdon Road, set up the private speech therapy centre last year, partly after becoming frustrated with the long waiting list for speech therapy on the NHS.

The centre has helped almost 600 children with communication difficulties across the county so far.

But she is also concerned that ordinary children are not getting the stimulation needed to encourage natural language development.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said that a third of children arrive at school “without the requisite communication and language skills to take part”.

Mrs Lathey, who has a two-year-old daughter, Jess, said: “There are lots of reasons why children are not learning to communicate but technology is the real problem as it’s reducing the amount of conversation taking place.

“Babies are learning to use iPads by the age of one. Also, family meals are not prioritised in the same way and that’s a hugely important part of communication for young children.”

The Owl Centre covers the whole county and beyond with therapists based in Oxford, Carterton, Thame, Wantage, and Sonning.

Mrs Lathey said: “The NHS is brilliant but there is now a four and-a-half month waiting list for speech therapy and that’s a long time in a little child’s life.

“Parents are beside themselves. We don’t get the worried well at our centre. We get families with genuine and real worries, desperate for support and therapy.

“Small Talk is not just for parents anxious about speech development. We have aimed it at mainstream families as all children can benefit from these techniques.”

Ms Blake, 38, a journalist, credits Nicola’s techniques for turning her two children, Minnie, three, and Monty, one, into confident chatterboxes.

She said: “I’ve been using Nicola’s techniques since Minnie was 10 weeks old.

She has been speaking in full sentences since she was 18 months old (the norm at this age is 10-20 words).

She has the language skills of a five-year-old and happily tells elaborate stories, in the abstract, using different tenses.

“In the book, we share some of the tried and tested techniques and fun ways to enhance the language skills of babies and toddlers.”

Small Talk: Simple ways to Boost your Child’s Speech and Language Development from Birth”

is available from Amazon for £8.31, published by Macmillan.