[lg policy] US: Early vocabulary delays suggest therapy needs later in life

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Dec 2 16:42:16 UTC 2015

 Early vocabulary delays suggest therapy needs later in life
by Kristie Auman-Bauer
December 1, 2015

A toddler’s vocabulary delays may indicate a future need for speech
language therapy, but race and home language can play a role in obtaining
these services, according to a recent Penn State study.

The study, published last month in the American Journal of Speech Language
Policy <http://ajslp.pubs.asha.org/article.aspx?articleid=2471589>,
includes analysis led by a Penn State researcher Paul L. Morgan, associate
professor of education policy studies <https://www.ed.psu.edu/eps/>. Morgan
said there is an ongoing debate in the speech and language pathology field
about whether being a late talker is a risk factor for later development.

“We analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of 10,000
children born in the U.S. in 2001. The data included surveys of the size of
the children’s oral vocabularies at two years of age, as well as untimed,
individualized assessments of their reading and mathematics achievement at
four and five years of age,” Morgan explained.

Morgan and his research team found that vocabulary delays by two years of
age were predictive of a child receiving speech and language services
between two and five years. When comparing identification data by race and
ethnicity, minority children were consistently less likely to receive those
services compared to otherwise similar white children at the same ages.

“Our analysis indicates that the likelihood of black children receiving
speech or language therapy services was about 45 to 60 percent lower than
white children who were otherwise similar across many other background
characteristics, including in their oral vocabularies, academic
achievement, behavior, and family income,” said Morgan.

The researchers observed sizeable disparities in services received, whether
the children were two, four, or five years old. Hispanic children’s lower
likelihood of receiving speech or language therapy services was
statistically explained by a language other than English being used in the

“Our research suggests that one way to reduce children’s need for costly
services later in life, including special education services, may involve
preventing or remediating vocabulary gaps as early as two years of age,”
said Morgan. “Our findings also suggest the need to increase culturally
sensitive or language specific practices to ensure that minority children
with speech or language impairments are being appropriately identified and

Additional research by Morgan indicates children who receive services for
speech and language impairments benefit from improved communications
abilities, particularly if the therapy starts before school entry. “We’ve
found that children are helped even further as they progress through the
educational system if the therapy is ongoing,” Morgan explained.

Early screenings and intervention efforts can also reap other benefits.
“We’ve shown that the size of two-year-old children’s oral vocabularies
uniquely predicts their academic and behavioral preparation for
kindergarten,” said Morgan. “Children with larger oral vocabularies at age
two were better at both reading and math, and excelled in other areas such
as self-regulation, attention span, and task persistence.”

Penn State colleagues Marianne Hillemeier, professor of health policy and
administration and demography, and Steve Maczuga, research programmer and
analyst for Penn State's Population Research Institute
<http://www.pop.psu.edu/> in the Social Science Research Institute
<http://www.ssri.psu.edu/>, contributed to the project. Other researchers
included George Farkas, professor of education at the University of
California, Irvine, and Carol Scheffner Hammer, professor of communication
science at Columbia University.

The National Center for Special Education Research's Institute of Education
Sciences, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development, and the National Institutes of Health supported this

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