Understanding the developmental path to early literacy, which is dependent upon earlier developing language comprehension and production and the activities that support it, is a priority in psychological and educational research. This is consistent with a long-standing focus on identifying those children at greatest risk for language delay early in development. These children are also at risk for difficulties in school. Children with deficits in both comprehension and production are at the greatest risk such that identifying children on the basis of production only results in an under-identification of those most in need of intervention. Language comprehension is central to the development of productive language, literacy, and general cognitive skills but has received limited attention due in part to the difficulty of assessing comprehension early in development. Two primary difficulties limit the measurement of early comprehension: infant distractibility and the portability or ease of test administration in settings outside the lab. A methodology is needed to assess early language comprehension and predict subsequent language and literacy. It must be easily administered by primary care providers and have utility across languages and monolingual and bilingual populations. We propose to address the issues of attention and portability by assessing the long-term predictive validity of the Computerized Comprehension Task. The CCT recruits infant attention to permit direct assessments of vocabulary comprehension in the second year of life. Because the procedure takes only 10 minutes to administer and can be self-contained on any computer with a touch sensitive screen, assessment can be made widely available as part of routine home or office visits. The present studies seek to evaluate the efficacy of the CCT to assess early comprehension across language groups (French, English, Spanish monolinguals and French-English and Spanish- English bilinguals) and to predict developmental outcomes over time including early literacy and school-readiness as children approach kindergarten. This cross-linguistic, longitudinal research will yield a rich picture of the transitions from comprehension to production and from production to early literacy. It will extend a new technology to address the pressing need to identify children at risk for language and literacy difficulties early in development and may facilitate the early identification of children at risk for developmental language disorders such as Specific Language Impairment or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Public Health Relevance

These studies will bridge research on early language and literacy. The project will extend the existing literature on emergent literacy and contribute to the pressing need to identify those children at greatest risk for persistent language delay. The results will serve to inform basic scientists, clinicians, and educators. If we are successful in predicting developmental risk from early vocabulary comprehension, then it may be possible to undertake language and literacy intervention far earlier than is common practice.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
Program Officer
Miller, Brett
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
San Diego State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
San Diego
United States
Zip Code
Hendrickson, Kristi; Mitsven, Samantha; Poulin-Dubois, Diane et al. (2015) Looking and touching: what extant approaches reveal about the structure of early word knowledge. Dev Sci 18:723-35
Friend, Margaret; Bates, Raven Phoenix (2014) The union of narrative and executive function: different but complementary. Front Psychol 5:469
Wright, Kristyn; Kelley, Elizabeth; Poulin-Dubois, Diane (2014) Schematic and realistic biological motion identification in children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. Res Autism Spectr Disord 8:1394-1404
Pace, Amy; Carver, Leslie J; Friend, Margaret (2013) Event-related potentials to intact and disrupted actions in children and adults. J Exp Child Psychol 116:453-70