The language outcome of a particularly high-risk population: The role of caregiver speech, responsivity, and directiveness

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Marygrace Yale Kaiser - Committee Chair


The role of the caregiver on development, including language, has been well documented. Caregivers using more complex speech patterns, and more responsive to their children's signals are said to encourage the development of language. Parents using less complex speech and using language to direct behavior are said to adversely impact development. The current study was designed to add to the already existing literature, expand these findings to a particularly high-risk population, and evaluate the influence of the caregiver on 36-month language outcome.Eighty-nine caregiver-child dyads, enrolled in an intervention for children prenatally exposed to cocaine, participated in a six-minute play interaction at 24 months. Language was assessed using an average of the receptive and expressive scores on the Reynell Language Development Scale at 36-months. Number of words and linguistic richness were chosen to examine the role of caregiver speech. A composite score of verbal compliance and linguistic mapping was computed to assess responsivity and a composite of follow directives and lead directives was computed to assess directiveness. With regard to caregiver speech, only linguistic richness was significantly associated with language outcome. Responsivity was significantly associated with language, but directiveness was not. Follow-up regressions indicated that linguistic richness mediated the impact of responsivity on language and directiveness tended to moderate the impact of linguistic richness on language outcome.Caregivers were also classified into four distinct interaction styles using median splits of responsivity and directiveness. Caregivers were classified as either: (1) Low responsivity, low directiveness (LrLd), (2) High responsivity, low directiveness (HrLd), (3) Low responsivity, high directiveness (LrHd), and (4) High responsivity, high directiveness (HrHd). These interaction styles were significantly associated with language outcome. Among caregivers with more consistent interaction styles (HrLd, LrHd), the linguistic richness and directiveness were significantly associated with language outcome. Among caregivers with more extreme caregiving styles (LrLd, HrHd), only responsivity was significantly associated with language outcome. The results of this suggest that caregivers have a significant impact on the language outcome of their children. These findings have implications for language intervention strategies; particularly, for a population for whom an optimal caregiving environment may be especially critical.


Speech Communication; Psychology, Developmental

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