• Open Access

Heritable risk factors associated with language impairments


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*J. Barry, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK. E-mail: johanna.barry@psy.ox.ac.uk


There is a strong genetic contribution to children’s language and literacy impairments. The aim of this study was to determine which aspects of the phenotype are familial by comparing 34 parents of probands with language/literacy impairments and 33 parents of typically developing probands. The parents responded to questionnaires regarding previous history for language/reading impairment and participated in psychometric testing. The psychometric test battery consisted of tests assessing non-verbal IQ, short-term memory, articulation, receptive grammar, reading abilities and spelling. Self-report measures demonstrated a higher prevalence of language and literacy impairments in parents of affected probands (32%) compared with parents of unaffected probands (6%). The two groups of parents differed significantly in their performance on the non-word repetition, oromotor and digit span tasks. Non-word repetition gave the best discrimination between the parent groups even when the data from the parents who actually were impaired as ascertained by direct testing or self-report were removed from the analyses. This suggests that non-word repetition serves as a marker of a family risk for language impairment. The paper concludes with a discussion of issues associated with ascertainment of specific language impairment (SLI).