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Due to wide variability of typical language development, it has been historically difficult to distinguish typical and delayed trajectories of early language growth. Improving our understanding of factors that signal language disorder and delay has the potential to improve the lives of the millions with developmental language disorder (DLD). We develop predictive models of low language (LL) outcomes by analyzing parental report measures of early language skill using machine learning and network science approaches. We harmonized two longitudinal datasets including demographic and standardized measures of early language skills (the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Developmental Inventories; MBCDI) as well as a later measure of LL. MBCDI data was used to calculate several graph-theoretic measures of lexico-semantic structure in toddlers’ expressive vocabularies. We use machine-learning techniques to construct predictive models with these datasets to identify toddlers who will have later LL outcomes at preschool and school-age. This approach yielded robust and reliable predictions of later LL outcome with classification accuracies in single datasets exceeding 90%. Generalization performance between different datasets was modest due to differences in outcome ages and diagnostic measures. Grammatical and lexico-semantic measures ranked highly in predictive classification, highlighting promising avenues for early screening and delineating the roots of language disorders.


This is the publisher PDF of Borovsky, A., Thal, D. & Leonard, L.B. Moving towards accurate and early prediction of language delay with network science and machine learning approaches. Sci Rep 11, 8136 (2021). Published CC-BY, it can be found at DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-85982-0.