About 1 in 10 babies in the United States is born premature. These children are at an increase risk for adverse outcomes across a broad spectrum of neurodevelopmental domains; including language skills as preschoolers. They also are at an increased risk for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as other behavioral problems.

Preschool is a crucial time for language development. Children born preterm who display deficits in language skills are unlikely to catch up with their full-term peers. That’s why it’s imperative to accurately assess their language skills to determine if they need early intervention.

Language outcomes in preschoolers born preterm

One common method of evaluating language skills is with standardize assessments or tests. Another way to analyze language skills is with language sample analysis; which provides a great deal of information on a child’s language abilities; and overall conversational skills. Despite this test’s diagnostic utility; very few studies have analyzed language sample analyses in conjunction with standardized assessment outcomes in children born preterm.

To bridge this gap, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Education and collaborators, investigate the impact of preterm birth on language outcomes in preschoolers born preterm and full-term; using both standardized assessment and language sample analysis. In addition to measures of language that include semantic skills as well as grammatical ability; the researchers examined nonlinguistic developmental skills of nonverbal intelligence, attention, and hyperactivity.

Substantial grammatical difficulties

Results of the study, publish in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, show that in general, the children born preterm perform more poorly when language skill was measure; via language sample analysis than standardized assessment. There were statistically significant group differences for all language skill measures obtain from the language sample analyses. In contrast, the researchers only found differences for one measure of language skills between the two groups of children obtained from the standardized assessments.

The researchers did not find any differences in the two groups of children for nonverbal factors; such as ADHD and nonverbal intelligence in either the standardize assessments or the language sample analyses. In fact, none of the nonlinguistic skills account; for a significant amount of the observe group differences on the language sample variables.

On the grammatical measures of the language sample analyses; the researchers found statistically significant differences between the two groups. Preterm children exhibit substantial grammatical difficulties. These children showed language deficits in discourse-level semantic and grammatical skills that were not evident from standardize assessment; which the researchers did not expect to find.

Standardized assessments of global language ability

Language difficulties at the discourse level may still exist even when children who are born preterm appear to be developing typically when they are evaluate by standardized assessments of global language ability, cognition, and attention. We also could not attribute these group differences to nonlinguistic factors such as inattention, hyperactivity, or nonverbal intelligence.” Caitlin M. Imgrund, Ph.D., Senior Author and Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, FAU

Findings from the study have important clinical implications for practitioners who work with preterm children. Deficits in conversational skills may be difficult to assess through the traditional use of standardized assessments, which underscores the importance of using both language sample analysis and standardized assessment to measure children’s expressive language skills.