Look Who's Talking A Prospective Study of Familial Transmission of Language Impairments Research Article
Research Article  |   October 01, 1997
Look Who's Talking
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Romy V. Spitz
    Center for Molecular and Behavior Neuroscience Rutgers University Newark, NJ
  • Paula Tallal
    Center for Molecular and Behavior Neuroscience Rutgers University Newark, NJ
  • Judy Flax
    Center for Molecular and Behavior Neuroscience Rutgers University Newark, NJ
  • April A. Benasich
    Center for Molecular and Behavior Neuroscience Rutgers University Newark, NJ
  • Corresponding author: e-mail: rspitz@ukans.edu
  • Currently affiliated with the University of Kansas, Lawrence
    Currently affiliated with the University of Kansas, Lawrence×
Article Information
Language Disorders / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   October 01, 1997
Look Who's Talking
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, October 1997, Vol. 40, 990-1001. doi:10.1044/jslhr.4005.990
History: Received May 6, 1996 , Accepted February 24, 1997
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, October 1997, Vol. 40, 990-1001. doi:10.1044/jslhr.4005.990
History: Received May 6, 1996; Accepted February 24, 1997

Language impairments have been hypothesized to have a genetic component. Previous studies of the familial aggregation of language impairments have relied on a retrospective approach based on parental/self-reported history of language development. This study examined familial aggregation prospectively, by investigating language acquisition and cognitive development in the younger siblings and offspring of individuals with well-defined language impairments. It was predicted that children with a positive family history for language impairments would be more likely to show delays in language acquisition than would age- and gender-matched controls. Similar delays were not expected in nonlinguistic domains, such as conceptual, gestural, or general cognitive development. Ten children with a positive family history and 10 age- and gender-matched controls were tested. Analyses of linguistic and cognitive assessments at 16 to 26 months confirmed the predictions. Children with a family history of language impairments had lower receptive and expressive language scores than controls, with 50% of them scoring at least 1.5 SD below the mean for their age. At the same time, performance on a number of tasks that did not rely on language abilities did not differ as a function of family history. These results indicate that children with a positive family history for language impairments are at risk for language delay; the results also support a familial component to language impairments.

Acknowledgments
We would like to thank G. Gilbert, M. Gibbons, B. Glazewski, C. Hayes, and W. Ramel for their help in data collection as well as all the parents and children for their participation and cooperation in this project. We thank Dr. Steve Miller for developing methods for proband family selection. We thank L. McDonough, J. Mandler, and D. Thal at the University of California, San Diego for methodological assistance. This research was supported by a grant supplement to NIH-NIDCD Grant R01-DC01854 (awarded to P. Tallal), a grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation (#JSMF93-25) awarded to R. V. Spitz, and NICHD Grant R01-HD29419 awarded to A. A. Benasich.
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