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Age 17 Language and Reading

Outcomes in Late-Talking Toddlers:

Support for a Dimensional Perspective
on Language Delay

Leslie Rescorla
Bryn Mawr College,
Bryn Mawr, PA Purpose: This study examined whether late talkers identified at 2431 months
continued to have weaker language and reading skills at 17 years of age than
typically developing peers.
Method: Language and reading outcomes at 17 years of age were examined in
26 children identified as late talkers with normal nonverbal ability and normal
receptive language at intake and in 23 typically developing children matched at
intake on age, socioeconomic status (SES), and nonverbal ability.
Results: Although late talkers performed in the average range on all language and
reading tasks at 17 years of age, they obtained significantly lower Vocabulary/
Grammar and Verbal Memory factor scores than SES-matched peers. The age 17
Vocabulary/Grammar factor had large correlations with the age 17 Verbal Memory
and Reading/Writing factors. The age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar and Reading/
Writing factors were strongly predicted by comparable factors at 13 years of age.
Age 2 Language Development Survey ( L. Rescorla, 1989) vocabulary score
explained 17% of the variance in the age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar and Verbal
Memory factors.
Conclusions: Results suggest that slow language development at 2431 months is
associated with a weakness in language-related skills into adolescence relative to
skills manifested by typically developing peersfindings that are consistent with a
dimensional perspective on language delay.
KEY WORDS: late talkers, adolescent outcomes, early language delay

hildren with normal nonverbal cognitive ability, adequate hear-
ing, and typical personality development who have delayed
receptive and /or expressive language skills are generally
referred to as having specific language impairment (SLI; Bishop, 2006;
Leonard, 1998.). When such children are identified at 23 years of age,
they have often been referred to as late talkers, a term that is more de-
scriptive and less diagnostic in nature. One reason this appellation de-
veloped was because of a belief held by many that SLI cannot be reliably
diagnosed at 2 years of age. However, the same criteria are used for
diagnosing a late talker and a preschooler with SLInamely a sig-
nificant language delay in the absence of a more primary condition. A
major justification used for making a diagnostic distinction between
these two groups has been that late talkers appear to manifest a better
outcome than preschoolers with SLI (Paul, 1996; Rescorla & Lee, 2000;
Whitehurst & Fischel, 1994). Evaluation of the merits of this diagnostic

16 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 52 1630 February 2009 D American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
distinction may depend on whether one espouses a cat- Children with more severe and prolonged language de-
egorical or a dimensional theoretical perspective on lays have weaker skills in a wider variety of language-
language delay. related abilities and hence fall further from the mean on
the impaired side of the distribution than children
whose delays are milder or more short-lived. Toddlers
Contrasting Theoretical Perspectives who have receptive as well as expressive delays and tod-
on Language Delay dlers whose expressive delays last long enough for them
to be diagnosed with SLI at 4 years of age are both pre-
Viewing late talkers and preschoolers with SLI as sumed to fall further away from the mean on this ability
manifesting two distinct disorders suggests a categorical spectrum than late talkers with no receptive problems
perspective toward language delay whereby the two con- whose delays resolve by 4 years of age.
ditions represent qualitatively different disorders hav-
Family environment factors and speech-language
ing different etiologies and outcomes. The alternative
therapy clearly affect language skills (Girolametto, Pearce,
dimensional theoretical formulation postulates a spec-
& Weitzman, 1996; Hart & Risley, 1995). Furthermore,
trum of language ability whereby late talkers and pre-
changes in language input in the home or provision of
schoolers with SLI differ along a quantitative dimension,
speech-language therapy (in addition to the effects of
with both groups having weaker language ability than
time) may result in many preschoolers with SLI as well
typically developing children.
as many late-talking toddlers moving into the average
Researchers who take the categorical approach to range of language skills as they get older. Nonetheless,
language impairment (Gopnik & Crago, 1991; Rice, 2003; the dimensional approach predicts that preschoolers with
Rice & Wexler, 1996) emphasize as central to defining SLI SLI or late talkers are very likely to continue to have
such discrete and focal grammatical deficits as the ex- weaker language skills than comparison peers who never
tended optional infinitive. Research based in this categor- manifested language delay because of what is presumed
ical approach tends to look for clinical markers and specific to be their more compromised language endowment. Out-
genetic causes for what is conceptualized as a discrete come studies of early language delay therefore provide a
disorder (Bishop, 2006). As Dollaghan (2004) noted, the- crucial test for determining whether this prediction from
orizing that SLI constitutes a discrete category promotes the dimensional approach is empirically supported by
research aimed at specifying a unique phenotype, longitudinal evidence.
etiology, base rate, and treatment regimen (p. 464).
In contrast, the dimensional theoretical formulation
postulates a spectrum of language ability. Early ac-
Outcomes for Children With SLI
counts of this dimensional perspective were offered by Although many children diagnosed with SLI as pre-
Bishop and Edmundson (1987), who argued for a spec- schoolers have persisting language impairment and later
trum of impairment for language problems, and by learning problems, many do not (Aram, Ekelman, &
Leonard (1987, 1991), who argued that SLI represents Nation, 1984; Aram & Hall, 1989; Bishop & Adams, 1990;
the tail of a normal distribution of language abilities. Hall & Tomblin, 1978). Despite the fact that a significant
Dollaghan (2004, p. 464) noted that the dimensional the- percentage of children with SLI move into the average
oretical approach implies the potential for more het- range over time, many outcome studies of children with
erogeneity in symptoms, origins, and causal influences SLI indicate considerable stability in individual differ-
than does the categorical approach. Bishop (2006, p. 220) ences in language skills. Some representative studies
used findingssuch as the finding that one monozygotic are summarized below.
twin may be diagnosable with SLI, whereas her co-twin The study of preschool SLI with the most compre-
may have only subclinical language problemsto argue hensive follow-up data is that of Bishop and colleagues
that investigations of SLI should be looking for dimen- (Bishop & Edmundson, 1987). When the children were
sions of impairment rather than discrete subtypes. seen at age 52 years, 44% of the sample of 68 four-year-olds
The dimensional perspective has also been outlined with SLI were judged to have good outcome (i.e., above
in Rescorla (2002, 2005), in which it was proposed that the 10th percentile in expressive language skills; Bishop
late talkers have below average endowment in a set of & Edmundson, 1987). At age 82, years, this age 5 good
intercorrelated yet diverse language-related abilities, outcome group performed at an average level on all lan-
analogous to differential endowments for intelligence. guage and reading measures (Bishop & Adams, 1990). In
The term endowment conveys the assumption that in- contrast, the 56% of the sample with a poor outcome at
dividual differences in language ability are to some ex- age 5 years (i.e., scores below the 10% percentile) per-
tent constitutionally basedan assumption supported formed significantly worse than controls on 9 out of
by findings from genetic studies, such as those by Dale 11 measures at age 82 years. Not surprisingly, at age
et al. (1998) and Bishop, Price, Dale, and Plomin (2003). 15 years (Stothard, Snowling, Bishop, Chipchase, &

Rescorla: Age 17 Language and Reading Outcomes 17

Kaplan, 1998), the age 5 poor outcome children were effect size (ES) on the Test of Language Development
worse than controls on virtually all language and aca- Primary, Second Edition ( TOLD-P:2; Newcomer &
demic measures. More surprisingly, the age 5 good Hammill, 1988b) Oral Vocabulary subtest (1.33).
outcome children were significantly different from con- Moyle, Ellis Weismer, Lindstrom, and Evans (2007)
trols on sentence and nonword repetition, spoonerisms, reported age 5 outcomes for 30 late talkers first iden-
and reading/spelling, despite their average scores. This tified at age 2 years, all of whom scored 10th percentile
finding indicates that even though the good outcome on the CDI (Fenson et al., 1993). Children in the typ-
group did not continue to have a significant language ically developing group had all scored 20th percentile
delay, their skills at age 15 years were weaker than those on the CDI at age 2 years and were matched with the late
of peers with typical language histories. talkers on age, socioeconomic status (SES), gender, and
Tomblin, Zhang, Buckwalter, and OBrien (2003) nonverbal cognitive ability. At age 5 years, late talkers
reported outcomes at 910 years of age (during fourth had significantly lower scores on the Test of Language
grade) for 180 children who were diagnosed with lan- DevelopmentPrimary, Third Edition ( TOLD-P:3;
guage disorder at 56 years of age (during kindergarten), Newcomer & Hammill, 1997) Oral Vocabulary, Grammatic
116 of whom met criteria for SLI and 64 of whom had Completion, and Sentence Imitation subtests. Although
performance IQs below 87 and hence were diagnosed with ESs for these group differences were not reported, in-
nonspecific language impairment (NLI). For the full sam- spection of the means and standard deviations provided
ple of children with SLI, NLI, and normal language indicates that the Cohens d values were very large: Oral
history, composite language scores in kindergarten were Vocabulary, d = 0.97; Grammatic Completion, d = 1.46;
correlated at r = .77 with composite language scores in and Sentence Imitation, d = 1.52.
fourth grade, indicating strong continuity in rank or- Only a few researchers have reported follow-up data
dering of language skills over time. Although only 52% for late-talking toddlers past age 6 years. Whitehurst
of kindergarten children with SLI/NLI continued to meet and Fischel (1994) reported age 7 school-administered
the criterion for language impairment in fourth grade, standardized test scores for 22 of their late talkers.
their mean composite language score was 1.20 SDs Although the group was above average in both reading
below the local mean (or well below average). NLI out- and math, performance was significantly better in math
comes were consistently worse than SLI outcomes, than in reading, suggesting some enduring weakness in
whether determined dichotomously (77% vs. 44% im- language-related skills.
paired in fourth grade) or continuously (1.45 vs. 1.06
Paul and colleagues studied a group of about 30 late
SDs). These findings suggest that the children with NLI
talkers and a matched comparison group (Paul, 1993;
fell further away from the mean on the impaired tail of
Paul, Murray, Clancy, & Andrews, 1997). In Pauls (1993)
the language ability spectrum than the children with
cohort, 25% of the late talkers were delayed in receptive
SLI but that both groups occupied places on this spec-
as well as expressive language. At age 7 years, 84% of
trum below those occupied by children with typical lan-
Pauls late talkers scored above the 10th percentile in
guage histories.
Developmental Sentence Score (Lee, 1974; i.e., had
recovered). The recovered group was similar to con-
Outcomes for Late Talkers trols on receptive language, reading, spelling, IQ, and
Several studies of late talkers have reported out- phonological skills. However, they had significantly lower
comes to age 5 years. For example, Girolametto, Wiigs, scores than controls on the Test of Language Development
Smyth, Weitzman, and Pearce (2001) reported age 5 out- (TOLD; Newcomer & Hammill, 1988a) Expressive Lan-
comes for 21 children identified as late talkers at age guage scale. The age 7 still delayed late talkers were
2433 months, all of whom scored below the 5th percen- worse than comparison children on everything except
tile on the Communicative Development Inventory (CDI; receptive language and reading/spelling.
Fenson et al., 1993). These children had participated in Armstrong, Marchman, and Owen (2007) recently
an 11-week parent-based intervention program at age reported findings through fifth grade for late talkers
2 years; 13 of the 21 children received subsequent speech- from the National Institute of Child Health and Human
language services. At age 5 follow-up, most of the late Development Early Child Care Research Network data
talkers scored in the normal range on various language set. On the basis of CDI scores collected at 24 months,
measures. However, when compared at age 5 years the sample of 689 children was divided into (a) late talkers,
with children who had typical language histories, the 131 toddlers who scored 10th percentile on the CDI at
late talkers scored significantly lower on most language 24 months and who scored <85 on the Reynell Expres-
measuresparticularly those tapping more complex sive Language Scale (Reynell & Gruber, 1990) at 36 and
skills, such as narrating a story. Of the 10 significant ef- 54 months; ( b) late bloomers, 39 children who scored
fects, 9 had Cohens (1988) d values > 0.50, with the largest 10th percentile on the CDI at 24 months and who

18 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 52 1630 February 2009
scored 85 on the Reynell Expressive Language Scale of Productive Syntax ( IPSyn; Scarborough, 1990), and
at 54 months; and (c) typically developing children, grammar skills at age 5 years as measured by the Pat-
558 children who scored 10th percentile on the CDI at terned Elicitation Syntax Test (Young & Perachio, 1983)
24 months and who scored 85 on the Reynell Expres- collectively explained 35% of the variance in age 8 scores
sive Language Scale at 54 months. Differences between on the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals
the three groups persisted through fifth grade on the Revised (CELF-R; Semel, Wiig, Secord, & Sabers, 1987).
WoodcockJohnsonRevised ( WJ-R; Woodcock & Age 2 LDS score significantly predicted age 9 reading out-
Johnson, 1989) Picture Vocabulary, LetterWord Iden- come on the WJR (Woodcock & Johnson, 1989), but its
tification, and Memory for Sentences subtests, although beta weight declined once age 5 reading and phonology
the late-talker group scored in the average range on the scores were entered as predictors. These three predictors
first two subtests at all time points. On Memory for Sen- explained 54% of the variance in age 9 reading.
tences, the late talkers scored below the average range Rescorla (2005) reported language and reading out-
at 54 months and at first grade. For all measures, the comes at age 13 years for 28 late talkers and 25 typically
late-talker group performed worst, the typically devel- developing children from the initial intake sample, with
oping group performed best, and the late-bloomer group the two groups matched at intake on age, SES, and non-
performed in between the other two groups. The gaps verbal ability. As a group, late talkers performed in the
between the three groups evident at 54 months did not average range on all standardized language and reading
change significantly through fifth grade. These data tasks at age 13 years. However, they scored significantly
provide strong support for the dimensional perspective lower than SES-matched peers on aggregate measures
of early language delay, with the late bloomers having a of Vocabulary, Grammar, and Verbal Memory, as well as
mild delay and the late talkers having more severe lan- on Reading Comprehension. They were similar to compar-
guage weaknesses, both of which persisted over time. ison peers in Reading Mechanics and Writing. Correlations
Rescorla (2002) reported school-age outcome data among outcome measures were moderately high, suggest-
for 34 late talkers and 25 comparison children matched ing some shared variance. Regression analyses indicated
at intake on age, SES, and norverbal cognitive ability. By that age 2 LDS vocabulary score was a significant predictor
age 6 years (Rescorla, 2002), only 6% of the late talkers of age 13 Vocabulary, Grammar, Verbal Memory, and Read-
had scores on at least two TOLD (Newcomer & Hammill, ing Comprehension. Thus, findings suggested that slow
1988a) subtests below the 10th percentile benchmark. language development at age 2 to 22 years was asso-
Nevertheless, the group means on language measures ciated with a weakness in language-related skills into
were significantly lower than those for typically develop- early adolescence relative to typically developing peers.
ing comparison children. Significant group differences In summary, Rescorlas (2005) age 13 findings are
were found on aggregate Vocabulary score at ages 6, 7, consistent with Stothard et al. (1998), Tomblin et al.
and 8, with Cohens ds of 0.85, 1.53, and 1.05, respec- (2003), Girolametto et al. (2001), Moyle et al. (2007),
tively. Significant group differences on the Grammar Armstrong et al. (2007), and Paul et al. (1997). Findings
aggregate were found at 6 and 8 years of age, with from all of these studies support the dimensional ac-
d values of 0.64 and 0.94. The group difference on the count of early language delay. According to this dimen-
Phonological aggregate was significant at age 6 years sional view, children vary widely in their language
(d = 0.91), as was the group difference on TOLD Sentence ability, from seriously impaired at the lower tail to ex-
Imitation at age 6 years (d = 1.26). Although negligible tremely gifted at the upper tail. For clinical purposes, a
numbers of children in the late-talker group scored below cutpoint on what is essentially a continuous dimension
the 10th percentile on reading measures, significant group may be needed to select children most in need of inter-
differences for the Reading aggregate were found at vention. However, proponents of a dimensional view
ages 8 and 9 (ds = 0.84 and 0.72, respectively). would argue that drawing such a cutpoint imposes a
Rescorla (2002) reported high correlations among dichotomy on what is essentially a continuum. The stud-
the various language and reading outcome measures ies reviewed above indicated that many children with
given from ages 6 to 9 years. The correlations that were clinically significant early language delay had moved
significant at p < .01 (66 of 78) ranged from .33 to .99, into the normal range at follow-up. Nonetheless, consis-
with 32 being large effects (.50) according to Cohen tent with the dimensional view of language delay, children
(1988). These correlations indicate some shared variance in these studies who had early delays continued at follow-
among diverse language and reading measures. Rescorla up to have lower scores on a variety of different language
also presented regression results, with predictors entered measures than children with typical language histories.
in chronological order. Vocabulary score on the Language Children whose follow-up language status was still
Development Survey ( LDS; Rescorla, 1989) at 2 years of significantly impaired had even lower language scores
age, grammar skills at 3 years of age as measured by than children who had recovered, suggesting that their
mean length of utterance ( MLU) and scores on the Index impairment was more long lasting and severe.

Rescorla: Age 17 Language and Reading Outcomes 19

Rationale and Goals of the Current Study histories (38 boys and 1 girl). Follow-up data at age
13 years for 28 of the late talkers and 25 of the compar-
The research reported here examined language and ison children were reported in Rescorla (2005). The
reading outcomes at age 17 years for 26 toddlers iden- 2 late talkers lost to follow-up between age 13 and age
tified as late talkers when they were between 24 and 17 years (a set of twins) had moved away and were not
31 months of age and for 23 typically developing chil- able to return to the area for testing. The 2 comparison
dren matched at intake on age, SES, and nonverbal children lost to follow-up between age 13 and age 17 years
ability. With the exception of Rescorla (2002, 2005), who had also apparently moved, as the families could not be
reported age 9 and age 13 outcomes for virtually these located. To test for the possibility of selective attrition,
same cohorts, no other studies of late talkers identified t tests were used to compare the 26 late talkers seen at
before age 3 years have followed children past age 10 years; age 17 years with the 14 not seen at 17 years of age on
the only major follow-up study of preschoolers with SLI intake measures for children 2431 months of age. Sim-
into adolescence is that by Stothard et al. (1998). The ilarly, the 23 comparison children seen at age 17 years
late talkers in the present study, all of whom had normal were compared with the 16 not seen. No differences even
language, were identified as delayed when they were approaching significance were found, indicating that
toddlers because they had very small vocabularies and / attrition was not selective in either group.
or were not combining words into phrases, with most meet-
Late talkers were recruited through newspaper ad-
ing both criteria. Based on the dimensional view of lan-
vertisements, notices to pediatricians, and a local infant
guage delay articulated above, as well as on the results
laboratory. All but 1 of the children in the original cohort
of previous outcome studies, it was predicted that the
came from a two-parent, middle-to-upper-class White
late talkers would perform close to the average range in
family (the mother of 1 late talker was divorced). The
a wide variety of language skills at age 17 years but that
first inclusionary criterion was a score of greater than 85
they would continue to manifest weaker skills than de-
on the Bayley Mental Development Scale (Bayley, 1969).
mographically matched children with typical language
Late talkers also had to score within 34 months of
chronological age (CA) on the Reynell Receptive Lan-
The current study tested the following specific guage Scale (Reynell, 1977); 25 of the 26 late talkers
hypotheses: (a) Late talkers at age 17 years would con- scored within 3 months of CA, and 1 late talker scored
tinue to have weaker language and reading skills than within 4 months of CA. Finally, late talkers had to score
demographically matched typically developing compar- at least 6 months below CA on the Reynell Expressive
ison children, despite scoring in the average range on Language Scale. Comparison children met the same cri-
most age 17 measures, consistent with the dimensional teria, except that they had to have a Reynell Expressive
view outlined previously; (b) age 17 language and reading Language Scale score within 34 months of CA; 22 out of
outcome measures would be strongly intercorrelated, con- 23 comparison children scored within 3 months of CA,
sistent with the dimensional view that language ability and 1 scored within 4 months of CA.
can be viewed as a set of interrelated yet diverse language-
Demographic information and test scores at intake
related skills; (c) convergent and discriminant predictive
(2431 months) for the two age 17 participant groups
validity would be demonstrated when using regression
appear in Table 1. As toddlers, the late talkers and the
analysis to predict age 17 outcomes from age 13 predictors,
comparison children did not differ in age, Hollingshead
with measures tapping the same basic skills being more
(1975) SES score, or total score on the 19 Bayley Non-
highly associated over time than measures tapping related
verbal items above the basal level for all children (e.g.,
but different skills; and (d) age 2 language predictors
towering blocks, doing puzzles, drawing, and inserting
would significantly predict age 17 outcomes, consistent
pegs)as has been the case in previous reports of these
with the dimensional view that individual differences in
cohorts (Rescorla, 2002, 2005; Rescorla, Dahlsgaard, &
language skills show substantial consistency over time.
Roberts, 2000). Intake Reynell performance is reported
in Table 1 using z scores based on British norms, which
were the only norms available for the Reynell measures
Method at the time these intake data were collected; z scores
rather than raw scores are reported because they not
Participants only allow for group comparisons but also indicate per-
Participants in this study were 26 late talkers and formance of the two groups relative to children of the
23 comparison children matched at intake (2431 months) same age in the standardization sample (albeit a British
on age, SES, and nonverbal ability. The original late-talker one). As in previous publications, the groups differed sig-
cohort in this longitudinal study consisted of 40 late nificantly in receptive language as measured by Reynell
talkers (36 boys and 4 girls), whereas the comparison Receptive Language Scale z score ( p < .001), even though
group consisted of 39 toddlers with normal language the late talkers had normal receptive skills for their age.

20 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 52 1630 February 2009
Table 1. Means, standard deviations, and ranges for intake measures by group.

Late talkers (n = 26) Comparison (n = 23)

Variable M SD Range M SD Range

Intake age 26.62 2.30 24, 30 25.83 1.85 24, 31

Hollingshead total score 53.69 13.18 27, 66 55.52 10.47 35, 66
Bayley Nonverbal items score 14.15 2.57 10, 18 15.17 2.34 10, 19
Reynell Receptive Language Scale z score 0.15 0.49 0.6, 1.4 1.04 0.66 0.4, 2.0***
Reynell Expressive Language Scale z score 1.62 0.34 2.3, 1.2 0.36 0.50 0.7, 1.1***
LDS vocabulary score 24.54 23.62 5, 131 235.17 73.67 27, 319***

Note. LDS = Language Development Survey.

***p < .001 (by independent means t test).

When Cohens d (Cohen, 1988) was used to calculate the therapy or reading remediation. Because degree of re-
ES for Reynell Expressive Language Scale z score (using mediation was so varied and because information about
the difference between 1.62 and 0.36 divided by the interventions was incomplete, intervention was not an-
standard deviation of the typically developing group alyzed for this study.
only, because of the extreme restriction in range in the
late-talker group), the ES was large (3.96), as would be
expected given the use of Reynell Expressive Language Procedure
Scale score to define the groups. Of the 26 late talkers, 4
Age 17 participants were seen for a 2-hr session.
were 6 months delayed, and 22 were 713 months delayed
Numerous standardized tests were used to assess vocab-
relative to their CA on the Reynell Expressive Language
ulary, grammar, verbal memory, and reading/writing
Scale at intake, with all late talkers scoring at least
skills. Every child was tested by the author, a licensed
1.2 SDs below age expectations (<10th percentile), and
and certified school psychologist. The examiner was not
15 of the 26 scoring 1.5 SDs or more below age ex-
blind to the childrens language history, having seen
pectations (<7th percentile). Finally, the late talkers had
them at regular intervals since age 2 years.
a mean vocabulary of 25 words on Rescorlas (1989) LDS,
in contrast to a mean vocabulary of 235 words for the
comparison group. Mothers of all late talkers reported Measures
fewer than 50 words or no word combinations on the LDS.
Wechsler Adult Intelligence ScaleThird Edition
By age 4 years, 29% of the late talkers had MLU
(WAIS-III; Wechsler, 1997a). Participants ability to de-
scores, and 71% had IPSyn (Scarborough, 1990) scores at
fine words on the WAIS-III Vocabulary subtest was used
least 1.25 SDs below age expectations (Rescorla et al.,
to assess verbal conceptual ability. In addition, the Digit
2000). This indicates that the percentage of the sample
Span subtest was used to assess recall of strings of digits
diagnosable with SLI at age 4 years varied with which of
in forward and backward order. Finally, the Block De-
these two measures was used. By age 6 years, about 17%
sign subtest was given to assess nonverbal ability.
of the late talkers were judged to have SLI on the basis of
continuing significant delays in expressive language Woodcock Johnson Psychoeducational Battery Tests
based on their TOLD (Newcomer & Hammill, 1988a) per- of AchievementThird Edition ( WJ-III; Woodcock,
formance (Rescorla, 2002). Independent of their partici- McGrew, & Mather, 2001). The LetterWord Identifica-
pation in this longitudinal study, about one third of the tion, Reading Fluency, and Writing Fluency subtests were
late talkers received some speech-language therapy dur- administered to assess, respectively, ability to decode
ing the preschool period, and a few participated in pre- words on a list, to read and comprehend short statements
school programs for children with language impairments; under time pressure, and to write short statements using
2 late talkers were in special education classes for chil- target words under time pressure. In addition, to obtain a
dren with language impairments in the early elementary second nonverbal measure, the WJ-III Math Fluency
school years. Some of these children received diagnoses of subtest was given to assess the ability to perform arith-
SLI from their educational agencies, but diagnostic prac- metic calculations under time pressure.
tices varied across school districts, and full diagnostic Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language
information was not available for all children. A few (CASL; Carrow-Woolfolk, 1999). The Syntax Construc-
comparison children also received speech and language tion, Sentence Comprehension, Grammatical Judgment,

Rescorla: Age 17 Language and Reading Outcomes 21

and Ambiguous Sentences subtests were used to assess properties of the subtests as presented in their respec-
grammatical skills. On Syntax Construction, partici- tive test manuals, observed intercorrelations among the
pants had to formulate sentences given various pictorial subtests in this sample, and aggregation procedures
and verbal prompts. On Sentence Comprehension, par- followed in Rescorla (2002, 2005). Principal components
ticipants had to select which two of three orally pre- analysis was then used to determine the percentage of
sented sentences had the same meaning. On Grammatical variance in each factor accounted for by the assigned
Judgment, participants had to decide whether orally measures, to obtain loadings of each measure on its
presented sentences were grammatically correct and, if factor, and to obtain factor scores for use in subsequent
deemed incorrect, to fix them by changing one word. Fi- analyses. Factor scores effectively weight the components
nally, on Ambiguous Sentences, participants had to pro- within a factor according to their degree of association
vide two different meanings for each of a series of orally with the overall factor score. The principal components
presented sentences. analysis results for each factor are summarized below.
Wechsler Memory ScaleThird Edition ( WMS-III; Five measures were assigned to a Vocabulary/Grammar
Wechsler, 1997b). The Logical Memory subtest was given factor (WAIS-III Vocabulary plus CASL Syntax Construc-
to assess recall of an orally presented narrative, whereas tion, Sentence Comprehension, Grammatical Judgment,
the Verbal Paired Associates subtest was given to assess and Ambiguous Sentences). These five subtests assigned
recall of arbitrary word pairs. to the Vocabulary/Grammar factor accounted for 63%
of the variance in that factor, with the following fac-
tor loadings: Sentence Comprehension = 0.67, Syntax
Data Reduction and Analysis Construction = 0.78, WAIS-III Vocabulary = 0.79, Grammat-
Eleven language, verbal memory, and reading/writing ical Judgment = 0.82, and Ambiguous Sentences = 0.87.
subtests constituted the primary dependent variables in Cronbachs alpha was large for the five-item Vocabulary/
this study (see Table 2). To reduce the risk of Type I Grammar factor (.80).
errors arising from performing many statistical tests, Three measures were assigned to the Verbal Mem-
these 11 subtests were aggregated into three composites. ory factor ( WAIS-III Digit Span, WMS-III Logical Mem-
The aggregation was based on a theoretical conceptual- ory, and Verbal Paired Associates). The three subtests
ization of the skills that the subtests tap, the known assigned to the Verbal Memory factor accounted for 54%

Table 2. Age 17 language and reading test scores: Means, standard deviations, ranges, and percentages below the 10th percentile by group,
plus Cohens d between groups.

Late talkers (n = 26) Comparison (n = 23)

% below % below
Measure M SD Range 10th percentilea M SD Range 10th percentilea d

Vocabulary/Grammar factor
WAIS-III Vocabulary subtest 13.50 2.64 9, 19 0 15.48 2.33 10, 19 0 0.80
CASL Syntax Construction subtest 103.77 14.84 76, 133 4 111.13 10.09 92, 129 0 0.59
CASL Sentence Comprehension subtest 102.88 11.60 84, 122 0 108.13 10.82 87, 127 0 0.47
CASL Grammatical Judgment subtest 103.36 14.06 74, 143 4 114.78 14.58 82, 138 0 0.80
CASL Ambiguous Sentences subtest 111.65 13.29 88, 129 0 119.43 9.33 101, 137 0 0.69
Verbal Memory factor
WAIS-III Digit Span subtest 10.35 3.14 4, 19 0 11.70 2.98 6, 18 0 0.44
WMS-III Logical Memory subtest 9.36 2.60 5, 14 17 11.87 2.05 9, 17 0 1.08
WMS-III Verbal Paired Associates subtest 10.31 3.72 1, 16 15 11.91 2.95 7, 16 0 0.48
Reading/Writing factor
WJ-III LetterWord Identification subtest 104.35 11.60 87, 126 0 110.39 12.32 86, 131 0 0.51
WJ-III Reading Fluency subtest 99.88 11.52 75, 120 12 104.17 14.21 72, 124 9 0.33
WJ-III Writing Fluency subtest 112.12 16.24 64, 133 4 112.96 10.67 93, 128 0 0.06

Note. WAIS-III = Wechsler Adult Intelligence ScaleThird Edition; CASL = Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language; WMS-III = Wechsler
Memory ScaleThird Edition; WJ-III = WoodcockJohnson Psychoeducational Battery Tests of AchievementThird Edition.
Refers to the percentage of children in each group scoring below the 10th percentile on each measure (<6 or <80).

22 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 52 1630 February 2009
of the variance in that factor, with the following load- The Reading Mechanics aggregate (a = .86) was com-
ings: WAIS-III Digit Span = 0.59, WMS-III Logical Mem- puted by averaging Wechsler Individual Achievement
ory = 0.77, WMS-III Verbal Paired Associates = 0.83. Test (Wechsler, 1992) Reading and Spelling scaled scores
Cronbachs alpha was only moderate for the three-item with scores from the Test of Word Reading Efficiency
Verbal Memory factor (.57). (Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1999) and with standard
Finally, three measures were assigned to the scores for miscues and words per minute computed from
Reading/Writing factor ( WJ-III LetterWord Identifi- the Qualitative Reading InventoryII (Leslie & Caldwell,
cation, Reading Fluency, and Writing Fluency). The 1995).
three subtests assigned to the Reading/Writing factor To address the fourth hypothesis, correlations were
accounted for 55% of the variance in that factor, with the calculated between LDS score, Reynell Expressive Lan-
following factor loadings: WJ-III LetterWord Identifi- guage Scale and Reynell Receptive Language Scale scores,
cation = 0.69, WJ-III Reading Fluency = 0.76, and WJ-III and the three age 17 factor score outcomes. In addi-
Writing Fluency = 0.78. As with the Verbal Memory fac- tion, Bayley Nonverbal score was tested as a predictor
tor, Cronbachs alpha was only moderate for the three- to examine whether age 2 nonverbal cognitive ability
item Reading/Writing factor (.60). also predicted age 17 outcomes. Follow-up regressions
Before conducting the main analyses, t tests on were then run to examine how much unique variance in
WAIS-III Block Design and WJ-III Math Fluency scores age 17 outcomes were accounted for by these four age 2
were used to determine whether the groups differed predictors.
significantly on nonverbal measures. To address the
first hypothesis, differences between the late-talker
and comparison groups were tested using t tests on the Results
Vocabulary/Grammar, Verbal Memory, and Reading/
Writing factors. Because 2 late talkers were not given Group Differences at Age 17 Years
the WMS-III Logical Memory subtest, they would have Late talkers and comparison children did not differ
been excluded from all follow-up analyses had a multi- significantly on either WAIS-III Block Design or WJ-III
variate analysis of variance been used. Because five sep- Math Fluency. Both groups scored somewhat above
arate t tests were run, p < .01 was used as the significance average on Block Design, with the late talkers having
level. slightly lower scores ( late talkers: M = 12.04, SD = 2.63;
To address the second hypothesis, correlations among typically developing: M = 13.39, SD = 3.35), t(47) = 1.58,
the age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar, Verbal Memory, and p = .12. On Math Fluency, both groups scored in the
Reading/Writing factorsas well as among all 11 age 17 average range ( late talkers: M = 102.73, SD = 16.24;
language-related measureswere obtained. typically developing: M = 101.91, SD = 12.31), t(47) = 0.19,
To address the third hypothesis, four of the age 13 p = .85. Thus, as had been the case 15 years earlier, these
aggregates analyzed by Rescorla (2005) were used as two demographically matched groups of children were
predictors of the three age 17 outcomes in hierarchical comparable in their nonverbal cognitive abilities.
regressions. As described in Rescorlas study, the age 13 As can be seen in Table 2, the late talkers generally
Vocabulary aggregate (Cronbachs a = .77) was computed obtained scores in the average range or above (i.e., scores
by averaging scores on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale 8 or 90) on the language and reading/writing mea-
for ChildrenThird Edition ( WISC-III; Wechsler, 1991) sures administered. However, on many of these mea-
Vocabulary subtest and the Test of Adolescent and Adult sures, late talkers scored somewhat below comparison
LanguageThird Edition ( TOAL-3; Hammill, Brown, children. To measure the magnitude of these differences,
Larsen, & Wiederholt, 1994) Listening Vocabulary and Cohens (1988) d was calculated by subtracting the mean
Reading Vocabulary subtests. The age 13 Grammar ag- score for the late-talker group from the mean score for
gregate (a = .71) was computed by averaging scores for the the comparison group and dividing by the pooled SD for
TOAL-3 Listening Grammar and Reading Grammar sub- the sample. As shown in Table 2, the largest ds were
tests, the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals found for WAIS-III Vocabulary (d = 0.80), CASL Gram-
Third Edition (CELF-III; Semel, Wiig, & Secord, 1995) matical Judgment (d = 0.80), and WMS-III Logical Mem-
Formulated Sentences subtest, and the Test of Language ory (d = 1.08). Table 2 also shows the percentage of
Competence (TLC; Wiig & Secord, 1989) Ambiguous Sen- children in each group obtaining scores below the 10th
tences subtest. The Verbal Memory aggregate (a = .74) percentile (scores 6 or 80). These percentages indicate
was composed of the WISC-III Digit Span subtest, the that few late talkers scored below the 10th percentile on
CELF-III Recalling Sentences subtest, and a Pseudoword any of the age 17 language and reading outcome mea-
Repetition task modified by Scarborough (1990) from a sures. The most challenging tasks for the late talkers
procedure reported by Taylor, Lean, and Schwartz (1989). appeared to be WMS-III Logical Memory and WMS-III

Rescorla: Age 17 Language and Reading Outcomes 23

Verbal Paired Associates, but even on these challenging Ambiguous Sentences), with five of the rs above the
verbal memory tasks most late talkers scored in the .50 criterion for a large ES (Cohen, 1988). Two of the
average range or above. three rs among the three subtests comprising the Verbal
Late talkers obtained significantly lower scores than Memory factor were significant at p < .05, with one being
comparison children on the age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar small and two being medium in size. Similarly, two of
factor, t(45.9) = 3.17, p < .01, d = 0.92, and the age 17 the three rs among the three subtests comprising the
Verbal Memory factor, t(42.6) = 3.18, p < . 01, d = 0.93. Reading/Writing factor were significant at p < .05, with
The group difference on the age 17 Reading/Writing fac- all three being medium in size.
tor was not significant, t(46.6) = 1.36, p = .18, d = 0.38. Consistent with the rs among the three age 17 fac-
Thus, despite scoring in the average range on all out- tors, the five subtests comprising the Vocabulary/Grammar
come measures, late talkers scored significantly less factor generally had medium-to-large rs with the sub-
well than comparison children on factors tapping their tests comprising the other two factors, whereas the rs
ability to provide word definitions and to perform a across factors for the other six subtests were generally
variety of tasks tapping lexical and grammatical skills, more modest. Overall, this pattern of results suggests
as well as on their ability to recall digit strings, nar- that vocabulary and grammar skills are significantly
ratives, and word pairs. The groups did not differ sig- associated with both verbal memory and reading/writing
nificantly in their scores on Reading/ Writing. skills but that these two latter sets of skills are not highly
associated with each other, as least as instantiated by
the subtests used in this study.
Correlations Among Outcome Measures
The Vocabulary/Grammar factor was correlated at
.65 ( p < .001) with the Verbal Memory factor and at .64
Convergent and Discriminant
( p < .001) with the Reading/Writing factor. The Verbal Predictive Validity
Memory factor was correlated at .37 with the Reading/ To examine convergent and discriminant predictive
Writing factor ( p < .05). Thus, the age 17 Vocabulary/ validity, regression analysis was conducted using the Vo-
Grammar factor had a large r with the two other age 17 cabulary, Grammar, Verbal Memory, and Reading Com-
outcome factors, but the r between the other two factors prehension aggregates analyzed at age 13 years (Rescorla,
was only medium in size. 2005) as simultaneous predictors of each of the three
Correlations among the 11 language, memory, and age 17 outcomes. As displayed in Table 4, the four age 13
reading/writing outcome measures are displayed in predictors accounted for 67% of the variance in the age 17
Table 3. The 10 rs among the five subtests comprising Vocabulary/Grammar factor (p < .001). Only the age 13
the Vocabulary/Grammar factor were all significant, with Vocabulary aggregate and Grammar aggregate had sig-
9 of the 10 reaching p < .01. The 10 rs ranged from .32 nificant standardized betas (p < .01, p < .05, respectively),
( WAIS-III Vocabulary with CASL Sentence Comprehen- indicating good convergent and discriminant predictive
sion) to .69 (CASL Grammatical Judgment with CASL validity.

Table 3. Correlations among age 17 language, memory, and reading/writing outcome measures.

Measure 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

1. WAIS-III Vocabulary subtest .54** .32* .56** .64** .30* .18 .41** .68** .39** .36*
2. CASL Syntax Construction subtest .46** .49** .57** .41** .25 .49** .37** .36** .43**
3. CASL Sentence Comprehension subtest .47** .48** .36* .26 .43** .31* .05 .21
4. CASL Grammatical Judgment subtest .69** .51** .31* .47** .49** .19 .28
5. CASL Ambiguous Sentences subtest .54** .35* .56** .52** .21 .41*
6. WAIS-III Digit Span subtest .18 .30* .44** .03 .19
7. WMS-III Logical Memory subtest .46** .02 .35* .20
8. WMS-III Verbal Paired Associates subtest .25 .05 .35*
9. WJ-III LetterWord Identification subtest .28 .32*
10. WJ-III Reading Fluency subtest .40*
11. WJ-III Writing Fluency subtest

Note. Values in bold grouped together indicate correlations among tests from the same factor.
*p < .05. **p < .01.

24 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 52 1630 February 2009
Table 4. Predicting age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar factor scores from rs < .15). In summary, these results indicate that the skills
age 13 Vocabulary, Grammar, Verbal Memory, and Reading tapped by age 13 CELF-III Recalling Sentences and
Comprehension scores. Pseudoword Repetition differed from those tapped by
age 17 WMS-III Logical Memory and WMS-III Verbal
Predictor B SE B b p Paired Associates, but these latter age 17 Verbal Memory
Vocabulary 13 0.17 0.05 .45 .001
tests were significantly associated with age 13 TOAL-3
Grammar 13 0.16 0.07 .33 .026 Listening Grammar and age 13 CELF-III Formulated
Verbal Memory 13 0.08 0.05 .18 .155 Sentences.
Reading 13 0.00 0.01 .05 .733 When the four age 13 aggregates were used to pre-
2 dict the age 17 Reading/Writing factor, the model ac-
Note. R = .67, p < .001.
counted for 67% of the variance ( p < .001; see Table 6).
Only the age 13 Reading Comprehension aggregate had
a significant standardized beta (p < .001), indicating good
When the four age 13 aggregates were used to pre- convergent and discriminant predictive validity.
dict the age 17 Verbal Memory factor, the model ac-
counted for only 42% of the variance (p < .001; see Table 5).
Contrary to prediction, only the age 13 Grammar aggre-
Prediction From Age 2 to Age 17 Years
gate had a significant standardized beta ( p < .05), in- Correlations among the three age 2 language mea-
dicating poor convergent and discriminant predictive sures were all large by Cohens (1988) standards: LDS
validity. To further explore prediction of age 17 Verbal Reynell Expressive (r = .89, p < .001), LDS Reynell Re-
Memory, correlations between the individual tests mak- ceptive (r = .59, p < .001), and Reynell Expressive
ing up this factor and age 13 subtests were examined. All Reynell Receptive (r = .69, p < .001). None of the three
four measures comprising the age 13 Grammar aggre- intake language measures were significantly correlated
gate as well as all three tests comprising the age 13 with Bayley Nonverbal score (all rs < .10). None of the
WISC-III Verbal Memory aggregate were significantly four intake measures were significantly correlated with
correlated with age 17 WAIS-III Digit Span: TOAL-3 Hollingshead SES scores (which had restricted range),
Listening Grammar (r = .55, p < .001); TOAL-3 Reading and SES was not correlated with any age 17 outcome, so
Grammar (r = .61, p < .001); CELF-III Formulated Sen- SES was not further analyzed.
tences (r = .41, p < .05); TLC Ambiguous Sentences (r = .45, All four age 2 predictors were significantly correlated
p < .01); WISC-III Digit Span (r = .72, p < .001); CELF-III with the age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar factor: LDS (r = .43,
Recalling Sentences (r = .49, p < .01); and Pseudoword p < .01), Reynell Expressive (r = .45, p < .01), Reynell
Repetition (r = .59, p < .001). Age 13 TOAL-3 Listening Receptive (r = .38, p < .01), and Bayley Nonverbal (r = .42,
Grammar and age 13 CELF-III Formulated Sentences, p < .01). They were also all significantly correlated with
both in the age 13 Grammar aggregate, were also sig- the age 17 Verbal Memory factor: LDS (r = .41, p < .01),
nificantly correlated with age 17 WMS-III Logical Memory Reynell Expressive (r = .37, p <.05), Reynell Receptive
(rs = .58 and .39, ps = .001 and .03) and WMS-III Verbal (r = .36, p < .05), and Bayley Nonverbal (r = .41, p < .01).
Paired Associates (rs = .52 and .41, ps < .01 and < .05). On These predictive associations were further analyzed using
the other hand, age 13 CELF-III Recalling Sentences and stepwise multiple regressions. For both regressions, the
Pseudoword Repetition, both in the age 13 Verbal Memory order of entry was LDS score, Reynell Expressive Lan-
aggregate, were not significantly correlated with WMS-III guage score, Reynell Receptive Language score, and Bayley
Logical Memory or WMS-III Verbal Paired Associates (all Nonverbal score. Because none of the correlations between

Table 5. Predicting age 17 Verbal Memory factor scores from Table 6. Predicting age 17 Reading/Writing factor scores from
age 13 Vocabulary, Grammar, Verbal Memory, and Reading age 13 Vocabulary, Grammar, Verbal Memory, and Reading
Comprehension scores. Comprehension scores.

Predictor B SE B b p Predictor B SE B b p

Vocabulary 13 0.03 0.06 .07 .694 Vocabulary 13 0.07 0.05 .19 .143
Grammar 13 0.24 0.09 .51 .011 Grammar 13 0.05 0.07 .10 .492
Verbal Memory 13 0.05 0.07 .11 .509 Verbal Memory 13 0.03 0.05 .08 .501
Reading 13 0.00 0.02 .03 .857 Reading 13 0.05 0.01 .58 .000

Note. R2 = .42, p < .001. Note. R2 = .67, p < .001.

Rescorla: Age 17 Language and Reading Outcomes 25

age 2 predictors and the age 17 Reading/Writing factor generally scored in the average range at age 17 years
were significant, regression analysis was not applied to and did not have significant language impairment. Fur-
this outcome. thermore, according to parental report, as well as
Only LDS scores and Bayley Nonverbal scores were reports from the adolescents themselves, they all were
significant predictors of age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar making good progress in high school and were on track to
score. The LDS, which was entered first, accounted for 17% graduate. Nonetheless, they continued to have weaker
of the variance in age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar (p < .01). language skills at age 17 years than peers with typical
In subsequent steps, Reynell Expressive added 3% language historiesa pattern of results supporting a
( p = .21), Reynell Receptive added 1% ( p = .49), and dimensional view of language ability. This pattern of
Bayley Nonverbal added 13% ( p < .01). The full model findings is consistent with Rescorla (2002, 2005) as well
accounted for 34% of the variance in outcome. as with Stothard et al. (1998), Tomblin et al. (2003),
Girolametto et al. (2001), Moyle et al. (2007), Armstrong
Quite similar results were obtained in the regres-
et al. (2007), and Paul et al. (1997).
sion predicting age 17 Verbal Memory scores. The LDS
accounted for 17% of the variance in age 17 Verbal Among the various age 17 subtests comprising the
Memory ( p < .01). Reynell Expressive added 0% ( p = .94), Vocabulary/Grammar factor, rs were medium-to-large.
Reynell Receptive added 2% ( p = .27), and Bayley These language skills also had moderately strong asso-
Nonverbal added 11% ( p < .05). The full model accounted ciations with measures comprising the Verbal Memory
for 31% of the variance in outcome. and Reading/Writing factors. Thus, the correlations
among the various age 17 language and reading/writing
measures, as well as those among the three age 17 fac-
Discussion tors, support the notion that a set of interrelated but
distinct skills comprise language ability, which can be
The present research is the only study to report late viewed as a dimension along which individuals differ.
adolescent outcomes for late talkers first identified as For the age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar and Reading/
such when they were toddlers. With the exception of the Writing factors, strong convergent and discriminant
earlier follow-ups from this same cohort (Rescorla, 2002, predictive validity were found on the basis of age 13 scores,
2005), no other studies of late-talking toddlers have consistent with predictions. Children who had higher
followed the children past age 10 years. Furthermore, scores on the age 13 Vocabulary and Grammar aggre-
there is only one published study reporting follow-up gates tended to have higher scores on the Vocabulary/
into adolescence for preschoolers diagnosed with SLI Grammar factor 4 years later, but other age 13 scores
namely Stothard et al. (1998). The results of the present were not predictive. Similarly, higher scores on age 13
study are consistent with those reported by Stothard Reading Comprehension were predictive of higher scores
et al., but they make an important addition to the lon- on age 17 Reading/Writing, but other age 13 scores were
gitudinal literature on language impairment because of not predictive.
the younger age of the children at intake (2 rather than
The age 17 Verbal Memory factor was not signifi-
4 years of age) and because of the length of the follow-up
cantly predicted by the age 13 Verbal Memory aggregate,
period (15 rather than 11 years).
but it was significantly predicted by the age 13 Grammar
aggregate. Analyses of subtest correlations suggested
Outcome of Late-Talker and Comparison that the skills tapped by age 13 CELF-III Recalling Sen-
tences and Pseudoword Repetition differed from those
Groups at Age 17 Years tapped by WMS-III Logical Memory and WMS-III
The results obtained in this study generally support Verbal Paired Associates, but these two age 17 Verbal
the four hypotheses tested. Although late talkers con- Memory tests were significantly associated with age 13
tinued to be comparable with SES-matched comparison TOAL-3 Listening Grammar. One possible reason for
children on nonverbal tasks ( WAIS-III Block Design and this pattern of results may be that age 17 WMS-III
WJ-III Math Fluency), their scores on most of the age 17 Logical Memory and WMS-III Verbal Paired Associates
language measures were lower than those of the com- required processing and recall of large amounts of in-
parison children, despite being in the average range. Four formation on each trial, as did age 13 TOAL-3 Listening
of the ESs were of medium size (Cohen, 1988; d > 0.50), Grammar. In contrast, age 13 CELF-III Recalling Sen-
and one was large (d = 0.80). Late talkers obtained sig- tences and Pseudoword Repetition both involved rela-
nificantly lower scores than comparison peers on the age 17 tively short stimuli. Although this explanation is only
Vocabulary/Grammar and Verbal Memory factors, with speculative, it can be concluded from these results that
large ESs (ds = 0.92 and 0.93, respectively). Thus, children different skills were being assessed by the Verbal Mem-
identified with delayed expressive language as toddlers ory measures administered at the two ages, except for

26 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 52 1630 February 2009
Digit Span, which was highly correlated from age 13 to endowment), the argument advanced here is that dif-
age 17 years. ferential endowment accounts in large part for the con-
Finally, parent-reported vocabulary score on the siderable stability of individual differences in language
LDS significantly predicted Vocabulary/Grammar and skills as well as IQ across development.
Verbal Memory skills 15 years later, accounting for 17% According to the argument advanced here, children
of the variance in both factors. Once the variance as- who are very well endowed on most of these skills will
sociated with the LDS had been taken into account, the have superior or advanced language ability, whereas chil-
Reynell Expressive and Receptive Language Scales did dren with weaker endowment of many of these skills will
not account for a significant amount of variance in either have delayed language acquisition initially and weaker
of these age 17 outcomes. Thus, significant continuity in language skills than their typically developing peers as
language functioning over 15 years was found in this they mature. Children with the weakest endowment on
study, even when age 2 language skills were measured these skills will be delayed in language acquisition and
by a simple parent-report checklist that takes about will continue to manifest clinical deficits in language
10 min to complete. functioning into adolescence and probably beyond. Fur-
An unexpected finding that emerged from these re- thermore, it is postulated that late talkers have some-
gression analyses was that age 2 Bayley Nonverbal score what below-average ability on these constitutionally
was also a significant predictor of age 17 Vocabulary/ based language-related abilities. Toddlers who have re-
Grammar and Verbal Memory skills, accounting for 13% ceptive as well as expressive delays and toddlers whose
and 11% of the variance, respectively, beyond that ac- expressive delays last long enough for them to be diag-
counted for by the LDS. This suggests that some of the nosed with SLI at age 4 years are both further away from
variance in age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar and Verbal the mean on this ability spectrum than late talkers with
Memory skills was due to nonlanguage skills measur- no receptive problems whose delays resolve by age 4 years.
able at age 2 years. These nonlanguage skills include the However, even these less impaired late talkers manifest
various nonverbal cognitive abilities tapped by Bayley significant differences in language skills up to age 17 years
items involving blocks, puzzles, pegs, drawing, and ob- relative to peers with typical language histories.
ject hiding, as well more general test-taking skills, such The fact that the LDS was a significant predictor
as attention, cooperation, and persistence. of age 17 Vocabulary/Grammar and Verbal Memory fac-
In summary, the results of this study are generally tor scores supports the notion that the LDS at age
consistent with the notion that language ability consti- 2431 months is an excellent early measure of the hy-
tutes a dimensional spectrum along which individuals pothesized general language ability. However, contrary
differ. Although the methods of the present study did not to findings reported at 13 years of age, intake Bayley
allow disentangling nature versus nurture factors, the Nonverbal score was also a significant predictor for both
general argument proposed here is that these individual of these age 17 factors. This suggests that by the time the
differences in language ability derive in large part from participants in this study reached late adolescence,
constitutionally based variation in endowment. On the some nonverbal ability factors that the Bayley tapped at
basis of the analogy with intelligence, it can be argued 2431 months also began to account for a significant
that this constitutionally based variation in endowment percentage of variance in the skills tapped by the age 17
derives from variation in many discrete skills subserving Vocabulary/Grammar and Verbal Memory measures.
language. Although the present study does not directly The age 2 language measures used in this study
indicate what this set of distinct yet interrelated skills were parent-report or clinical instruments tapping major
might be, it might be conjectured that likely skills are au- language features, such as vocabulary size, use of word
ditory perception, word retrieval, verbal working memory, combinations, and comprehension of words and phrases.
motor planning, phonological discrimination, and gram- They were not experimental measures designed to tap
matical rule learning. This notion of a spectrum of lan- the language-related skills presumed to underlie language
guage ability is consistent with Leonards (1991) argument ability, such as auditory perception, word retrieval, verbal
that SLI represents the tail of a normal distribution of working memory, motor planning, phonological discrimi-
language abilities, as well as with Bishop and Edmundsons nation, or grammatical rule learning. However, such
(1987) formulation of a spectrum of impairment. abilities are increasingly being measured in toddlers
The argument that children are born with differing and tested as predictors of later language outcomes. For
endowments for language is similar to the argument example, Newman, Ratner, Jusczyk, and Jusczyk (2006)
that children are born with differential endowments for reported that the ability to segment speech in laboratory
intelligence. Although environmental factors clearly af- tasks administered before 12 months of age was as-
fect both language development and IQ (and environ- sociated with vocabulary size at 24 months and with
mental factors also covary to some degree with genetic scores on language tests at ages 46 years.

Rescorla: Age 17 Language and Reading Outcomes 27

language impairment, phonological disorders and reading
Limitations retardation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31,
The sample used in this study was very homoge- 10271050.
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both the late-talker group and the comparison group November). School age cognitive and achievement out-
comes for late talkers and late bloomers: Do late bloomers
might have had lower scores, and the late talkers might
really bloom? Poster presented at the annual meeting of
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could be seen at age 17 years. However, the age 17 sam- pairment? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15,
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Rescorla: Age 17 Language and Reading Outcomes 29

Woodcock, R. W., & Johnson, M. B. (1989). Woodcock
Received July 21, 2007
Johnson Psychoeducational BatteryRevised. Chicago:
Riverside Publishing. Revision received January 3, 2008
Woodcock, R. W., McGrew, K. S., & Mather, N. (2001). Accepted May 27, 2008
WoodcockJohnson Psychoeducational BatteryThird Edi- DOI: 10.1044/1092-4388(2008/07-0171)
tion. Chicago: Riverside Publishing.
Contact author: Leslie Rescorla, Department of Psychology,
Young, E. C., & Perachio, J. J. (1983). Patterned Elicitation Bryn Mawr College, 101 North Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr,
Syntax Test, Revised. Tucson, AZ: Communication Skill
PA 19010. E-mail:

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