Late bloomer or language disorder? Differences in toddler vocabulary composition associated with long-term language outcomes

Lynn K. Perry, Sarah C. Kucker, Jessica S. Horst, Larissa K. Samuelson

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4 Citations (Scopus)
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Children with delays in expressive language (late talkers) have heterogeneous developmental trajectories. Some are late bloomers who eventually “catch-up”, but others have persisting delay or are later diagnosed with developmental language disorder (DLD). Early in development it is unclear which children will belong to which group. We compare the toddler vocabulary composition of late talkers with different long-term outcomes. The literature suggests most children with typical development (TD) have vocabularies dominated by names for categories organized by similarity in shape (e.g., cup), which supports a bias to attend to shape when generalizing names of novel nouns—a bias associated with accelerated vocabulary development. Previous work has shown that as a group, late talkers tend to say fewer names for categories organized by shape and are less likely to show a “shape bias” than TD children. Here, in a retrospective analysis of 850 children, we compared the vocabulary composition of groups of toddlers who were late bloomers or persisting late talkers. At Time 1 (13-27 months), the persisting late talkers said a smaller proportion of shape-based nouns than both TD children and late bloomers who “caught up” to typically sized vocabularies months later (18-38-months). Additionally, children who received a DLD diagnosis between 4 and 7 years said a significantly smaller proportion of shape-based nouns in year two than TD children and children with other diagnoses (e.g., dyslexia). These findings bring new insight into sources of heterogeneity amongst late talkers and offer a new metric for assessing risk.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13342
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number4
Early online date10 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • developmental language disorder
  • late talker
  • shape bias
  • vocabulary

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