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Keeping Current

Keeping Current #98-2

Assessing Language in Young Children by Using Parent Report and Prelinguistic Measures: An Important Way to Involve Families

Marilyn K. Kertoy, Dept. of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Western Ontario, and CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research

©1998 Kertoy, M., CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research

In recent years, approaches to language assessment with young children have broadened beyond one-on-one standardized testing. It is recognized that young children seem to perform best when they are with familiar caregivers and are in comfortable surroundings (Sandall, 1997). There is an increased emphasis on examining prelinguistic behaviours (behaviours that occur prior to the onset of words) (Coggins, 1998; McCathren, Warren, & Yoder, 1998), and assessments in which the child interacts with a caregiver in naturalistic settings are being more widely practiced (Foley, 1990; Linder, 1990).

This issue of "Keeping Current" outlines this shift toward increased family involvement in the language assessment process, including the parent's completion of report measures and parent and professional co-involvement in prelinguistic assessments.

The Benefits of Involving Families in Language Assessments

The involvement of the family during language assessments can greatly improve the usefulness of the information obtained while reducing frustration for both the family and professionals. Assessments should be organized around the family's priorities and designed to help answer their questions (Crais, 1996). Active participation by families in language assessments supports a family-centred approach in the following ways:

  1. Parents are aware of their children's language and improve their observation skills through their participation. They acquire positive and realistic expectations about their child's language.
  2. Professionals value the information parents provide, and acknowledge that it is based on extensive experience with their child.
  3. Because parents and professionals are informed partners during assessment, families can readily participate in intervention planning. Parents are informed decision makers.
Multiple Ways Families May Participate in Language Assessments

It is important to provide families with the opportunity to participate in an assessment. Families may participate in a variety of ways, depending on their desired level of involvement and their perceived role in the assessment (Sandall, 1997). Some major ways that families may participate in language assessments are:

  1. to validate information about their child that professionals obtain through the assessment process (Crais, 1996; Crais & Calculator, 1998). Families validate information by noting if language behaviours observed during assessments also occur at home.
  2. to share their own perceptions about their child's needs and abilities (Coggins, 1998; Crais & Calculator, 1998; McCathren et al., 1998).
  3. to interact with their child according to assessment procedures while professionals observe (Crais, 1996). These procedures are called play or arena assessments (Foley, 1990; Linder, 1990).
  4. to directly observe their child and complete a checklist of those observations (Dale, 1991; 1996). Such parent report measures are described in the next section.
  5. to serve as the test administrator in place of a professional (Crais & Calculator, 1998).

What is a Parent Report Measure?

Parent report measures allow parents to provide information about their child's language in a systematic way. Parents observe specific behaviours exhibited by their child and report these behaviours on a checklist or questionnaire. Parents are generally asked to recognize a single behaviour at a time. Sometimes they are provided with a choice between two behaviours and asked to report which behaviour best describes their child.

Types of Parent Report Measures

Parent report measures consist of reports about a child's overall development or of reports specifically about a child's language behaviour. Parent reports that examine a range of developmental skills have been used by speech language pathologists for some time. Examples of parent report measures that examine several areas of development are the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (Sparrow, Balla, & Cicchetti, 1984) and the Denver Development Screening Test (Frankenburg et al., 1990). A disadvantage for speech language pathologists of reports that examine many developmental areas is that these reports tap only a few language behaviours at a given age.

Since 1990, several parent report measures have been developed purely as measures of language behaviours. Such parent reports for language include the Language Development Survey (LDS; Rescorla, 1993) and the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories (CDI; Fenson et al., 1993). These reports permit observation of a large number of language behaviours at a given age, and utilize a recognition format. In a recognition format, the parent is asked to tell if the child exhibits a specific behaviour (i.e., child says his name) rather than being asked to provide a description of the child's language from memory (i.e., tell how your child communicates with peers).

Are Parents Accurate in Providing Information about their Child's Language?

Parents are likely to be most accurate under the following conditions (Dale, 1991;1996):

  • The language behaviours are ones the child is currently using and are easily observable.
  • The language behaviours are emerging in the child and are not too numerous to keep track of.
  • The language behaviours are elicited in a recognition rather than a recall format.

Prelinguistic Measures also Encourage Family Involvement in Language Assessment

The young child under age 3 or the child with motor or cognitive delays poses a challenge for the speech pathologist who wishes an accurate assessment of the child's language abilities. These children may be best served through use of language instruments that assess emerging prelinguistic abilities (Coggins, 1998). Parents may be involved in any language assessment, but prelinguistic assessments are especially suited for parent-professional co-involvement because they focus on early communication that is best assessed during natural interactions with familiar people. By involving parents in prelinguistic assessments, professionals can improve the cooperation of young children and increase the opportunity to obtain representative language behaviours (Dale, 1996).

Other Parent Roles in Prelinguistic Assessments

Several language assessments encourage parents to assume roles in addition to completing a parent report measure (Refer to Table 1). These roles include sharing perceptions about their child, interacting with their child and administering tests. Three prelinguistic assessments, Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scales (CSBS; Wetherby & Prizant, 1993), the Infant -Toddler Language Scale (Rossetti, 1990) and the Assessing Linguistic Behaviour (ALB; Olswang, Stoel-Gammon, Coggins, & Carpenter, 1987), ask parents to share their perceptions about their child. The speech language pathologist conducts some of the assessment procedures, but includes the family's perceptions.

In addition, the parents interact with their child on the Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scales and the Assessing Language Behaviour. The speech pathologist observes the parent-child interaction and makes notes about the child's language behaviours or reports the elicitation of specific child language behaviours by the family. Families may be asked to carry out specific play activities with their child for these assessments.

Finally, the parents may serve as the test administrator. For language assessments such as the Assessment Evaluation and Programming System (AEPS; Bricker, 1993), the parent conducts specific activities with their child and records the behaviours on a form.

Psychometric Properties of Selected Language Measures

The Assessing Linguistic Behaviour (ALB), the Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scales (CSBS), and the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories (CDI) have also been recommended as adequate tests for measuring prelinguistic behaviours (McCathren et al., 1996). They have been recommended due to the quality of their psychometric properties. Assessing Linguistic Behaviour and Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scales measure babbling, pragmatic skills, vocabulary comprehension and play skills. These prelinguistic skills are important in the development of later language skills. The MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories also assesses vocabulary comprehension and play skills. In addition, the Language Development Survey has been shown to have excellent reliability and validity (Rescorla, 1989).

Selected Language Measures

Goal of Assessment

Suitable Age Range for Use of Measure

Level of Involvement by Family

Name of Measure

Time for Parent or SLP to Administer

Screening for word use12-30 months Parent completes checklistLDS10 min.
In-depth assessment for word use, gestures, sentence use, prelinguistic communication2 Forms:
8-16, 16-30 months
Parent completes checklistCDI15-45 min.
In-depth assessment for prelinguistic communicationALB: 0-24 mos.
CSBS: 9-24 mos.
Infant: 0-3 yrs.
Parent shares perceptionsALB
CSBS
Infant
ALB: 1 hr.
CSBS: 1 hr.
Infant: 30 min.
In-depth assessment for prelinguistic communicationsee aboveParent interacts with childALB
CSBS
see above
In-depth assessment for intervention planning of language and other developmental skills0-3 yearsParent administers testAEPS30 min.+

AEPS = Assessment Evaluation and Programming System;
ALB = Assessing Linguistic Behaviour;
CDI = MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories;
CSBS = Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scales;
Infant = Infant-Toddler Language Scale;
LDS = Language Development Survey.

The ALB, CSBS and the CDI have published norms. The sample sizes vary with the CDI having the largest sample size of 1,800 children. The CDI and CSBS report test-retest reliability, interrater reliability and internal consistency. The ALB reports only interrater reliability. Reliability and construct validity for the CDI are good. Expressive vocabulary performance on the CDI correlated well (.40 to .80) with the expressive portions of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development and with the Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test (Bayley, 1969; Gardner, 1979). Test-retest reliability for the CSBS is good. Internal consistency across 7 subtests of the CSBS ranges from .17 to .91 with reliabilities for four subtests greater than .77 (McCathren et al., 1996).

Implications for Parents and Speech Language Pathologists

  1. Speech language pathologists will want to become familiar with parent report and prelinguistic measures and consider ways of involving families in language assessment.
  2. Speech language pathologists can provide information to families about the possible roles they can play in assessment. Families should have opportunities to choose a comfortable level of involvement and an appropriate role.

Recommended Readings

Professionals should consider the psychometric properties of language instruments along with other factors when planning a language assessment. The particular instrument selected will depend on the desired level of family involvement, the age of the child, and the purpose of the assessment - screening, in-depth assessment or intervention planning.

For additional information on language assessment, refer to:

Sandall, S.R. (1997). Developmental assessment in early intervention. In A. H. Widerstrom, B.A. Mowder, & S. R. Sandall (Eds.), Infant development and risk (2nd ed., pp. 211-235). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

For additional information on the roles of parents in language assessment, refer to:

Crais, E. R. & Calculator, S. N. (1998). Role of caregivers in the assessment process. In A. Wetherby, S. F. Warren, & J. Reichle (Eds.), Transitions in prelinguistic communication (Vol. 7, pp. 261-284). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

For additional information on the psychometric properties and advantages of language instruments, refer to:

Dale, P. (1996). Parent report assessment of language and communication. In K. Cole, P. Dale, & D. Thal (Eds.), Assessment of communication and language (Vol. 6, pp. 161-182). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

McCathren, R. B., Warren, S., & Yoder, P. J. (1996). Prelinguistic predictors of later language development. In K. Cole, P. Dale, & D. Thal (Eds.), Assessment of communication and language (Vol. 6, pp. 57-76). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

References

Bayley, N. (1969). Bayley Scales of Infant Development Manual. Birth to two years (1st ed.). Berkeley, CA: The Psychological Corporation.

Coggins, T. (1998). Clinical assessment of emerging language: How to gather information and make informed decisions. In A. Wetherby, S. Warren, & J. Reichle (Eds), Transitions in prelinguistic communication (Vol. 7, pp. 233-260). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Crais, E. R. (1996). Applying family-centered principles to child assessment. In P.J. McWilliam, P.J. Winton, & E.R. Crais (Eds.), Practical strategies for family-centred intervention (pp. 69-96). San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing.

Crais, E. & Calculator, S. (1998). Role of caregivers in the assessment process. In A. Wetherby, S. Warren, & J. Reichle (Eds.), Transitions in prelinguistic communication (Vol. 7, pp. 261-284). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Dale, P. (1991). The validity of a parent report measure of vocabulary and syntax at 24 months. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 34(3), 565-571.

Dale, P. (1996). Parent report assessment of language and communication. In K. Cole, P. Dale, & D. Thal (Eds.), Assessment of communication and language (Vol. 6, pp. 161-182). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Foley, G. (1990). Portrait of the arena evaluation. In E. Gibbs & D. Teti (Eds.), Interdisciplinary assessment of infants: A guide for early intervention professionals (pp. 271-286). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Frankenberg, W., Dodds, J., Archer, P., Bresnick, B., Mashka, P., Edelman, N., & Shapiro, H. (1990). Denver Developmental Screening Test (Denver II). Denver, CO: Denver Developmental Materials, Inc.

Gardner, M.F. (1979). Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test. Novato, CA: Academic Therapy Publications.

Linder, T. (1993). Transdisciplinary play-based assessment-Revised. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

McCathren, R. B., Warren, S., & Yoder, P. J. (1996). Prelinguistic predictors of later language development. In K. Cole, P. Dale, & D. Thal (Eds.), Assessment of communication and language (Vol. 6, pp. 57-76). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Rescorla, L. (1989). The Language Development Survey. A screening tool for delayed language in toddlers. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 54, 587-599.

Sandall, S. (1997). Developmental assessment in early intervention. In A. Widerstrom, B. Mowder, & S. Sandall (Eds.), Infant development and risk (pp. 211-236). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Sparrow, S., Balla, D., & Cicchetti. D. (1984). Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.

References for Selected Language Measures that Appear in the Table

Olswang, L., Stoel-Gammon, C., Coggins, T., & Carpenter, R. (1987). Assessing Linguistic Behaviour (ALB). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Bricker, D. (1993). Assessment Evaluation and Programming System (AEPS): AEPS Measurement for Birth to Three Years (Vol. 1). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Wetherby, A. & Prizant, B. (1993). Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scales (First Edition) (CSBS). Chicago, IL: Riverside Publishing.

Rossetti, L. (1990). Infant-Toddler Language Scale. East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems.

Rescorla, L. (1993). Language Development Survey (LDS). The use of parental report in the identification of communicatively delayed toddlers. Seminars in Speech and Language, 14(4), 264-277.

Fenson, L., Dale, P., Resnick, J., Thal, D., Bates, E., Hartung, J., Pethick, S., & Reilly, J. (1993). MacArthur Communicative Development lnventories (CDI). San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing.