Models and determinants of vocabulary growth from kindergarten to adulthood

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Abstract

Background

Increasing evidence suggests that childhood language problems persist into early adulthood. Nevertheless, little is known about how individual and environmental characteristics influence the language growth of individuals identified with speech/language problems.

Method

Individual growth curve models were utilised to examine how speech/language impairment and environmental variables (socioeconomic status, family separation, and maternal factors) influence vocabulary development from age 5 to 25. Participants were taken from a community sample of children initially diagnosed with speech/language problems at age 5 and their sex- and age-matched controls.

Results

The language impaired group had significantly poorer receptive vocabulary than the speech impaired and control groups throughout the 20-year period. Family income was a significant predictor of vocabulary growth when considered separately, but ceased to be a predictor when language impairment status was taken into account. Maternal education and family separation were determinants of vocabulary at age 5, over and above language impairment status.

Conclusion

Language impairment is a significant risk factor for vocabulary development from childhood to adulthood. Individuals with speech impairment were less impaired on receptive vocabulary than individuals with language impairment. Further investigation into maternal and familial risk factors may provide targets for early intervention with children at risk for language impairment.

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