Background: The long-term academic consequences of childhood language impairment are both theoretically and clinically important. An unbiased appraisal of these outcomes, however, requires carefully designed, longitudinal research.
Method: A group of children first identified as having speech and/or language impairment in a community-based, longitudinal study at 5 years of age and matched controls were re-examined during young adulthood (age 19). A comprehensive battery of speech and language, cognitive and achievement tests, psychiatric interviews, and questionnaires were completed by subjects, their parents and teachers.
Results: While children with early speech problems showed only a few academic differences from controls in young adulthood, early language impaired (LI) young adults lagged significantly behind controls in all areas of academic achievement, even after controlling for intelligence. Further, rates of learning disabilities (LD) were significantly higher in the LI group than both the controls and community base rates. Concurrent individual difference variables, including phonological awareness, naming speed for digits, non-verbal IQ, verbal working memory, and executive function, all contributed unique variance to achievement in specific areas.
Conclusion: Early LI rather than speech impairment is clearly associated with continued academic difficulties into adulthood. These results speak to the need for intensive, early intervention for LI youngsters.