Journal of Child Language

Research Article

Early delayed language development in very preterm infants: Evidence from the MacArthur-Bates CDI*

SUSAN FOSTER-COHENa1 c1, JAMIE O. EDGINa2, PATRICIA R. CHAMPIONa3 and LIANNE J. WOODWARDa4

a1 University of Canterbury and the Champion Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand

a2 University of Canterbury and Van der Veer Institute for Parkinson's and Brain Research, Christchurch, New Zealand

a3 University of Canterbury and the Champion Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand

a4 University of Canterbury and Van der Veer Institute for Parkinson's and Brain Research, Christchurch, New Zealand

ABSTRACT

This study examined the effects of being born very preterm on children's early language development using prospective longitudinal data from a representative regional cohort of 90 children born very preterm (gestational age <33 weeks and/or birth weight <1,500 grams) and a comparison sample of 102 children born full term (gestational age 38–41 weeks). The MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory: Words and Sentences (CDI-WS) was used to assess children's language development at age 2 ; 0 (corrected for gestational age at birth). Clear linear relationships were found between gestational age at birth and later language outcomes, with decreasing gestational age being associated with poorer parent-reported language skills. Specifically, children born extremely preterm (<28 weeks' gestation) tended to perform less well than those born very preterm (28–32 weeks' gestation), who in turn performed worse than children born full term (38–41 weeks' gestation). This pattern of findings was evident across a range of outcomes spanning vocabulary size and quality of word use, as well as morphological and syntactic complexity. Importantly, associations between gestational age at birth and language outcomes persisted after statistical control for child and family factors correlated with both preterm birth and language development. These findings demonstrate the presence of pervasive delays in the early language development of children born very preterm. They also highlight the importance of gestational age in predicting later language risk in this population of infants.

(Received January 22 2005)

(Revised May 27 2006)

Correspondence:

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Susan Foster-Cohen, The Champion Centre, Private Bag 4708, c/-Burwood Hospital, Christchurch, New Zealand. e-mail: susan.foster-cohen@canterbury.ac.nz

Footnotes

[*] This research was funded from grants from the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand, the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board and the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation. We would like to thank the families who participated in this research for their time and ongoing support of our studies.