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Early language delay: A study of the evolving language environments of preschool children

Blackwell, Anna


Anna Blackwell


Primary language impairment (PLI) affects approximately one in 20 young children, who may have difficulties with language in later life. The importance of parent-child interaction (PCI) for language development has been well established. Many early speech and language therapy interventions have focused on modifying characteristics of PCI to enhance opportunities for language learning. However, the success of such programmes is mixed. Furthermore, there is a dearth of literature examining the developmental nature of the relationship between parent and child language with children who have PLI. Using a case study methodology, the present study aimed to understand the dynamics of the relationship between PCI and the trajectories of vocabulary growth of children with PLI.

Four case studies were developed using data from preschool children and their families. Following baseline assessments, data were collected at four time points across 9-10 months. Vocabulary development was examined using MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories. Children wore a LENA (Language ENvironment Analysis) recorder at home, which collected naturalistic all-day audio, used to sample PCI for transcription and analysis. The LENA audio was coded to examine how talk varied across everyday activities. In addition, mother-child dyads were video-recorded looking at a picture-book to examine parent teaching behaviours. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with parents to get their perspectives on having a child with PLI.

The findings demonstrated cross-case differences in the trajectories of children’s vocabulary growth, which were consistent with differences in maternal talk. Across cases, mothers were generally found to dominate interactions. There was no clear pattern in maternal responsiveness that suggested change over time. However, there was a trend for increased responsiveness during picture-book sharing compared to the naturalistic PCI samples. Mother-child play was infrequent during the LENA recordings. These findings challenge previous research that observed PCI in single, researcher-defined settings such as toy play and its representativeness for understanding PCI more broadly. Further research is discussed, including evaluation of PCI interventions in naturalistic settings to assess integration of strategies. The interviews with parents identified factors to improve engagement and satisfaction with interventions. Understanding individual differences in response to interventions is essential for improving the effectiveness of support for children.


Blackwell, A. Early language delay: A study of the evolving language environments of preschool children. (Thesis). University of the West of England

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords language delay, parent-child interaction, vocabulary development


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