Late talkers not likely to have later behavior problems

July 1, 2011

Toddlers identified as "late talkers" have no increase in psychosocial problems compared with other children during childhood or adolescence, as long as they don't have comorbid behavior problems, according to Australian investigators.

Toddlers identified as "late talkers" have no increase in psychosocial problems compared with other children during childhood or adolescence, as long as they don't have comorbid behavior problems, found Australian investigators.

As part of the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort Study, 1,245 children whose speech was not delayed and 142 children not using expressive vocabulary were followed until age 17. For this study, a late talker was defined on the basis of scores from the Language Development Survey (LDS) completed by the child's caregivers. The LDS includes 310 words, and caregivers were asked to circle the words that the child uses spontaneously. Late talkers were those who scored at or below the 15th percentile for their age and gender.

At age 2, late talkers were at higher risk than controls for behavior difficulties, including significant externalizing and internalizing problems. However, follow-up at ages 5, 8, 10, 14, and 17 years revealed no significant effect of late talking on scores on the Child Behavior Checklist after adjusting for potential confounders.

The researchers believe that the findings from this study support a causal pathway in which the behavioral and emotional problems identified at age 2 are attributed to the psychosocial difficulties of not being able to communicate effectively and that these problematic behaviors are ameliorated as language skills improve.

Persisting language impairment, however, is linked to psychiatric difficulties, they wrote.

Whitehouse AJ, Robinson M, Zubrick SR. Late talking and the risk for psychosocial problems during childhood and adolescence. Pediatrics. 2011. Epub ahead of print.