Heritability of Specific Language Impairment and Nonspecific Language Impairment at Ages 4 and 6 Years Across Phenotypes of Speech, Language, and Nonverbal Cognition

Mabel L. Rice, Catherine L. Taylor, Stephen R. Zubrick, Lesa Hoffman, Kathleen K. Earnest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Purpose Early language and speech acquisition can be delayed in twin children, a twinning effect that diminishes between 4 and 6 years of age in a population-based sample. The purposes of this study were to examine how twinning effects influence the identification of children with language impairments at 4 and 6 years of age, comparing children with specific language impairment (SLI) and nonspecific language impairment (NLI); the likelihood that affectedness will be shared within monozygotic versus dizygotic twin pairs; and estimated levels of heritability for SLI and NLI. Twinning effects are predicted to result in elevated rates of language impairments in twins. Method The population-based twin sample included 1,354 children from 677 twin pairs, 214 monozygotic and 463 dizygotic, enrolled in a longitudinal study. Nine phenotypes from the same comprehensive direct behavioral assessment protocol were investigated at 4 and 6 years of age. Twinning effects were estimated for each phenotype at each age using structural equation models estimated via diagonally weighted least squares. Heritabilities were calculated for SLI and NLI. Results As predicted, the twinning effect increased the percentage of affected children in both groups across multiple language phenotypes, an effect that diminished with age yet was still not aligned to singleton age peers. Substantial heritability estimates replicated across language phenotypes and increased with age, even with the most lenient definition of affectedness, at -1 SD. Patterns of outcomes differed between SLI and NLI groups. Conclusions Nonverbal IQ is not on the same causal pathway as language impairments. Twinning effects on language acquisition affect classification of 4- and 6-year-old children as SLI and NLI, and heritability is most consistent in the SLI group. Clinical practice requires monitoring language acquisition of twins to avoid misdiagnosis when young or a missed diagnosis of language impairments at school entry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)793-813
Number of pages21
JournalJOURNAL OF SPEECH LANGUAGE AND HEARING RESEARCH
Volume63
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2020

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