Previous work suggests that most clinically significant language difficulties in children do not result from acquired brain lesions or adverse environmental experiences but from genetic factors that presumably influence early brain development. We conducted the first twin study of language delay to evaluate whether genetic and environmental factors at the lower extreme of delayed language are different from those operating in the normal range. Vocabulary at age two was assessed for more than 3000 pairs of twins. Group differences heritability for the lowest 5% of subjects was estimated as 73% in model-fitting analyses, significantly greater than the individual differences heritability for the entire sample (25%). This supports the view of early language delay as a distinct disorder. Shared environment was only a quarter as important for the language-delayed sample (18%) as for the entire sample (69%).
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We thank the parents of the twins in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) for making the study possible. TEDS is supported by a programme grant from the UK Medical Research Council.
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