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Talking Tots and the Terrible Twos

Early Language and Disruptive Behavior in Toddlers

Roberts, Megan Y., PhD*; Curtis, Philip, BA*; Estabrook, Ryne, PhD; Norton, Elizabeth S., PhD*; Davis, Matthew M., MD; Burns, James, MS; Briggs-Gowan, Margaret, PhD§; Petitclerc, Amelie, PhD; Wakschlag, Lauren S., PhD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: October 01, 2018 - Volume Publish Ahead of Print - Issue - p
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000615
Original Article: PDF Only

Objective: The goal of this article is to investigate the association between the 2 most commonly reported parental concerns about young children—disruptive behavior (e.g., irritable, aggressive, and noncompliant behaviors) and language delay in toddlers. To test for salient subgroup differences, individual differences by the sex of the child and family poverty status were examined.

Methods: Participants included 1259 mothers of children between 18 and 36 months of age. Mothers completed questions about their child's language development and disruptive behavior. Information regarding poverty status as well as child age and sex were also collected.

Results: Stronger language skills were associated with fewer disruptive behaviors for children between 18 and 36 months of age. This negative association was stronger for females than for males (b = −0.243; t[1251] = −3.555; p < 0.001) and stronger for children living in poverty than for those above the poverty line (b = −2.04; t[1251] = −2.531; p = 0.011).

Conclusion: Findings from our study suggest a developmental co-occurrence pattern that begins at a very early age. Individual differences suggest that there is substantial heterogeneity in these patterns; longitudinal investigation is needed to uncover causal pathways and underlying mechanisms. Awareness of the association between these 2 developmental domains, about which parents frequently express concerns, is critical to maximizing early detection and intervention.

*Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL;

Medical Social Sciences, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL;

Pediatrics, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL;

§Psychiatry, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT.

Address for reprints: Megan Y. Roberts, PhD, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Frances Searle, Room 3-346, Evanston, IL 60208; e-mail: megan.y.roberts@northwestern.edu.

All phases of this study were supported by the Northwestern University and funded by the National Institutes of Health R01 R01MH107652 (L. S. Wakschlag).

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

M. Y. Roberts conceptualized and designed the study and drafted and approved the final manuscript as submitted. P. Curtis conducted the statistical analysis related to the language measures and approved the final manuscript as submitted. R. Estabrook supervised all statistical analyses and critically reviewed and approved the final manuscript as submitted. E. Norton assisted in the development of the language survey questions and critically reviewed and approved the final manuscript as submitted. M. Davis interpreted the data, critically revised the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. J. Burns conducted the statistical analysis related to the disruptive behavior measures and approved the final manuscript as submitted. M. Briggs-Gowan codeveloped the items of the disruptive behavior measure, provided input regarding the statistical analyses, and critically reviewed and approved the final manuscript as submitted. A. Petitclerc codeveloped the items of the disruptive behavior measure, provided input regarding the statistical analyses, and critically reviewed and approved the final manuscript as submitted. L. S. Wakschlag codeveloped the items of the disruptive behavior measure, provided input regarding the statistical analyses, and critically reviewed and approved the final manuscript as submitted.

Received March 07, 2018

Accepted August 07, 2018

Copyright © 2018 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.