• children;
  • Chinese;
  • language;
  • Orientals;
  • symbolic play test


Background: Symbolic play test (SPT) is a simple test for screening preverbal language in children. This test had been validated in English-speaking children. However, the toys may not be useful for other cultures such as Orientals like Chinese, Japanese, Koreans or Thais as they use chopsticks and bowls as eating utensils rather than spoon, fork or knife. The aim of this study was to find a set of miniature toys suitable for children of Oriental ethnic origin in order to get a reliable language test.

Methods: Altogether 140 children were recruited into this study. This included 62 control children and 78 with idiopathic developmental delay. The original SPT was applied together with an additional set of miniature toys appropriate for Oriental culture (i.e. modified version of SPT) by modifying play items in situations 3 and 4 to suit the Chinese culture. The authors replaced the knife, fork and plate with chopsticks and bowl in situation 3 and replaced the tractor and trailer with train carts in situation 4. For the ease of comparison, the authors segregated the age groups with the same age range as the original English-based SPT: less than 20 months (N= 11); 21–30 months (N= 45); 31–40 months (N= 43); 41–50 months (N= 21), and more than 50 months (N= 4).

Results: The mean scores of the cohort was higher (14.83) with the modified version of SPT than when the original SPT was used (13.64). A statistically significant increase in the mean score in situation 3 (3.67–3.24 = 0.43), situation 4 (3.76–3.36 = 0.40) and the overall score (14.83–13.64 = 1.19) was obtained when the modified SPT was used instead of the original SPT (all with P < 0.001).

Conclusion: The authors recommend replacing play items like spoon, knife, fork and plate with Oriental culture-based items like chopsticks and bowl for the modified SPT (Oriental version). Users of the test should have a set of toy train carts available to supplement the tractor and trailer as these toys were not commonly seen in real life for Oriental children. The authors hope that the modified SPT can be used reliably to assess for preverbal ability of Oriental children, especially Chinese children.