Published: October 31, 2018

Taylor, C. L., Rice, M. L., Christensen, D., Blair, E., & Zubrick, S. R. (2018). Prenatal and perinatal risks for late language emergence in a population-level sample of twins at age 2. BMC pediatrics18(1), 41.


Catherine Taylor, Mabel Rice, Daniel Christensen, Eve Blair, and Stephen R. Zubrick.


Late Language Emergence (LLE) in the first two years of life is one of the most common parental concerns about child development and reasons for seeking advice from health professionals. LLE is much more prevalent in twins (38%) than singletons (20%). In studies of language development in twins without overt disability, adverse prenatal and perinatal environments have been reported to play a lesser role in the etiology of LLE than adverse postnatal environments. However, there is a lack of population-level evidence about prenatal and perinatal risk factors for LLE in twins. This study investigated the extent to which prenatal and perinatal risk factors were associated with LLE in a population-level sample of twins at age 2 without overt disability.

The sample comprised 473 twin pairs drawn from a population sample frame comprising statutory notifications of all births in Western Australia (WA), 2000–2003. Twin pairs in which either twin had a known developmental disorder or exposure to language(s) other than English were excluded. Of the 946 twins, 47.9% were male. There were 313 dizygotic and 160 monozygotic twin pairs. LLE was defined as a score at or below the gender-specific 10th percentile on the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories: Words and Sentences (CDI-WS) (Words Produced). Bivariate and multivariable logistic regression was used to investigate risk factors associated with LLE.

In the multivariable model, risk factors for LLE in order of decreasing magnitude were: Gestational diabetes had an adjusted odds ratio (aOR) of 19.5 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.2, 313.1); prolonged TSR (aOR: 13.6 [2.0, 91.1]); multiparity (aOR: 7.6 [1.6, 37.5]), monozygosity (aOR: 6.9 [1.7, 27.9]) and fetal growth restriction (aOR: 4.6 [1.7, 12.7]). Sociodemographic risk factors (e.g., low maternal education, socioeconomic area disadvantage) were not associated with increased odds of LLE.

The results suggest that adverse prenatal and perinatal environments are important in the etiology of LLE in twins at age 2. It is important that health professionals discuss twin pregnancy and birth risks for delayed speech and language milestones with parents and provide ongoing developmental monitoring for all twins, not just twins with overt disability.