Early comprehension better predictor of language ability than speech

iStock_000014442615XSmallChildren who are late talkers, especially those who have a family history of a Language-Learning Impairment (LLI), cause concern for parents and clinicians. But a recent study in the Journal of Learning Disabilities finds that a child’s receptive language ability at 3 years old is a better predictor of later language ability than expressive language. This is true for children with and without a family history of language impairment, say researchers in this study of 99 children (40 with a confirmed family history and 59 without a family history).

“Many of the children diagnosed with only expressive delays showed fewer problems or had been able to resolve most of those problems by the time they enter school,” the authors write. …”The fact that more associations were seen between early receptive language and later measures (in contrast to early expressive language) also strongly suggests that receptive language abilities may be better indicators of concurrent and future abilities.”

At 2 and 3 years of age, the Preschool Language Scale –3 (PLS-3) was used to assess receptive (auditory comprehension) and expressive (Expressive Communication) language skills. Standardized assessments administered at ages 5 and 7 included Test of Language Development–Primary (TOLD-P3), the Token Test, Phonological Awareness Test and the Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests–Revised.

As a group, children with a family history of language impairment consistently lagged behind their matched controls, even though only some of them would go on to be diagnosed with a language-learning impairment. The findings emphasize the importance of vigilant monitoring of the speech and language progress of children who are known to be at higher risk for LLI, the researchers write.

“If a child born into a family with a history of LLI is also among those children presenting with lower receptive and/or expressive language at an early age, then these children essentially have two significant risk factors for later disorder,” the researchers write.

“Using Early Standardized Language Measures to Predict Later Language and Early Reading Outcomes in Children at High Risk for Language-Learning Impairments,” by Judy Flax et al., Journal of Learning Disabilities, Volume 42, Number 1, January/February 2009, pp. 61-75.

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