Early phonological and sociocognitive skills as predictors of later language and social communication outcomes

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Previous studies of outcome for children with early language delay have focused on measures of early language as predictors of language outcome. This study investigates whether very early processing skills (VEPS) known to underpin language development will be better predictors of specific language and social communication outcomes than measures of language itself.


Participants were 163 children referred to clinical services with concerns about language at 2;6–3;6 years and followed up at 4–5 years. Novel assessments of phonological and sociocognitive processing were administered at Time 1 (T1), together with a standardised test of receptive and expressive language, and parental report of expressive vocabulary. The language test was re-administered at Time 2 (T2), together with assessments of morphosyntax and parental reports of social communication.


Intercorrelations at and between T1 and T2 were high, and dissociations were rare. Ordinal regressions were run, entering predictors singly and simultaneously. With the exception of the phonological task, every early measure on its own was significantly predictive of most outcomes, and receptive language was the strongest all-round predictor. Results of simultaneous entry, controlling for the effect of other predictors, showed that early language was the strongest predictor of general language outcome, but early phonology was the strongest predictor of a measure of morphosyntax, and early sociocognition the strongest predictor of social communication.


Language measures which draw on a wide range of skills were the strongest overall predictors of general language outcomes. However, our VEPS measures were stronger predictors of specific outcomes. The clinical and theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.

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