Objective: To document the prevalence of expressive language delay in relation to age and gender in 12- to 39-month-old children. To document the characteristics, particularly social competence and emotional/behavioral problems, related to deficits in expressive language.
Method: Parents of an age- and sex-stratified random sample of children born at Yale New Haven Hospital between July 1995 and September 1997 who lived in the New Haven Meriden Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area were enrolled when their children were 12 to 39 months of age (79.8% participation;N = 1,189). The main outcome for these analyses is expressive language delay measured by the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory, short forms.
Results: Expressive language delays range from 13.5% in 18- to 23-month-olds to 17.5% in children 30 to 36 months of age. By 18 to 23 months, children are more likely to experience delays if they come from environments characterized by low education, low expressiveness, poverty, high levels of parenting stress, and parents who report worry about their children's language problems. When social competence is adjusted for in the multivariable model, behavior problems are no longer associated with language delay, suggesting that poor social competence rather than behavior problems may be the critical early correlate of low expressive language development.
Conclusions: Expressive language delays are prevalent problems that appear to be associated with poor social competence. Given that such problems may be risk factors for social and emotional problems, early identification is critical.