Predicting language change between 3 and 5 years and its implications for early identification.
ABSTRACT Early language delays across the preschool period have important implications for children, parents, and services raising the significance of early identification. Screening tests are an appealing solution but have proved problematic. A combined risk model would seem promising but has yet to be tested. The goal of this study was to examine the factors that predict language change in a nationally representative sample of children between 3 and 5 years when most children are identified as being in need of services.
By using data from children (n = 13,016) in the Millennium Cohort Study (a national UK birth cohort), linear regression was used to predict 5-year performance from 3-year test performance data coupled with sociodemographic and within-child factors and indicators of parental concern. Patterns of change were identified and logistic regression was used to predict the difference between children for whom profiles change and those for whom they do not.
The final model (predicting 32% of the variance) included maternal education, pattern construction, behavior, language concerns, and 3-year vocabulary. Four change patterns were identified: one consistently low (n = 201), one consistently high (n = 12,066), a group that is resilient (n = 572), and one with a declining profile (n = 177). The models accurately predicted 71% of the declining group and 99% of the resilient group. Maternal education (odds ratio: 0.49) and behavior (odds ratio: 0.9) were significant predictors for the former and maternal education (odds ratio: 0.6) and pattern construction (odds ratio: 1.03) the latter.
Early identification of delayed language remains problematic but, once identified, there are key indicators that predict which children are likely to be more or less at risk across time. The implications are discussed in terms of policy and practice.