The implications of childhood bacterial meningitis for language development

Child Neuropsychol. 2000 Jun;6(2):87-100. doi: 10.1076/chin.


Bacterial meningitis is a life threatening infection of the central nervous system. This illness is most prevalent early in life when the healthy child is rapidly acquiring language. This study investigated whether children with a history of bacterial meningitis were at risk for language difficulties post illness. Thirty post-meningitic children, aged between 9 years 0 months and 11 years 0 months, participated in this study. Each subject was administered a measure of non-verbal cognitive ability and a range of language tasks. These children performed poorly on applied language tasks, which tap skills used in effective discourse. These deficits occurred despite age appropriate performances on measures of linguistic/grammatical knowledge. These findings clearly illustrate that bacterial meningitis has implications for ongoing language development, which emphasises the importance of long term follow up. In developmental terms, this discrepancy between verbal knowledge and problem solving represents a dissociation between language skills which develop early in life and those which emerge later. This pattern of results suggests that bacterial meningitis may result in a delay in language development. A young age at illness was identified as an additional risk factor for adverse outcome. This study highlights the need to inform parents/guardians that post-meningitic children are at risk for experiencing language difficulties throughout childhood.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Damage, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / etiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intelligence
  • Language Development Disorders / diagnosis
  • Language Development Disorders / etiology*
  • Language Tests
  • Male
  • Meningitis, Bacterial / complications*
  • Risk