If only we had a crystal ball to predict late talkers’ later language skills (ok, those would be nice in so many areas of our field!). As SLPs we are always trying to get an accurate picture of how many words a child uses and understands. But because we don’t have a dedicated assessment of toddlers’ early vocabulary, we often do this through parent report, either formally (like an MCDI) or informally. However, researchers have found that parents' report of their child's vocabulary doesn't do as good of a job when we try to use it to predict later language. It seems that parent report may not be giving us all of the information that we need about a child’s vocabulary in order to predict their later language abilities.
We know that there’s a continuum of what “knowing a word” entails for a toddler. When they first learn to say the word “milk,” they may only know it within the context of breakfast. The word “dog” however, they may use all day long whenever they see a dog or a picture of one. A parent would rightly conclude that a child knows both “milk” and “dog,” even though the child’s “level of knowing” varies between the two words. Contrast this with a picture ID vocabulary assessment, in which all of the words are presented out of context. For a toddler to correctly identify a word during the assessment, he would have to have a strong understanding of what that word really means without all of the support that context provides.
Because of this, Friend et al. (2018) set out to create a picture ID test for young children and test if it could better predict preschool language abilities than parent report. They developed the Computerized Comprehension Test (CCT) in which children are asked to identify decontextualized pictures from a field of two. They then tested it with 16-, 23-, and 36-month-old children. At 16 months, parent report continued to best predict preschool language abilities. However once the child reached 23 months, the CCT was a stronger predictor of later language abilities with great psychometric properties.
While the CCT is still in its early phases, it shows promise of becoming a useful instrument for EI SLPs to get a more accurate picture of toddlers’ vocabulary, especially after age two. In its current state, it could serve to complement other assessments already in your toolkit, such as an MCDI. And while we’ll never have a crystal ball to tell us what a child’s language will be like years down the road, assessments such as this may give clues to help us make more informed decisions about assessment and treatment.
Note: The authors have published all of their CCT materials online, including the computerized assessment, training videos/instructions, and data sheets. I tested out the program myself, and while there was a learning curve, it didn’t prove to be too challenging! Let’s all take a moment and cheer for these scientists giving us access to the materials we need!
Friend, M., Smolak, E., Patrucco-Nanchen, T., Poulin-Dubois, D., & Zesiger, P. (2018). Language Status at Age 3: Group and Individual Prediction From Vocabulary Comprehension in theSecond Year. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/dev0000617