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Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 1994;59(5):1-173; discussion 174-85.

Variability in early communicative development.

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Developmental Psychology Lab, San Diego State University, San Diego 92182.


Data from parent reports on 1,803 children--derived from a normative study of the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories (CDIs)--are used to describe the typical course and the extent of variability in major features of communicative development between 8 and 30 months of age. The two instruments, one designed for 8-16-month-old infants, the other for 16-30-month-old toddlers, are both reliable and valid, confirming the value of parent reports that are based on contemporary behavior and a recognition format. Growth trends are described for children scoring at the 10th-, 25th-, 50th-, 75th-, and 90th-percentile levels on receptive and expressive vocabulary, actions and gestures, and a number of aspects of morphology and syntax. Extensive variability exists in the rate of lexical, gestural, and grammatical development. The wide variability across children in the time of onset and course of acquisition of these skills challenges the meaningfulness of the concept of the modal child. At the same time, moderate to high intercorrelations are found among the different skills both concurrently and predictively (across a 6-month period). Sex differences consistently favor females; however, these are very small, typically accounting for 1%-2% of the variance. The effects of SES and birth order are even smaller within this age range. The inventories offer objective criteria for defining typicality and exceptionality, and their cost effectiveness facilitates the aggregation of large data sets needed to address many issues of contemporary theoretical interest. The present data also offer unusually detailed information on the course of development of individual lexical, gestural, and grammatical items and features. Adaptations of the CDIs to other languages have opened new possibilities for cross-linguistic explorations of sequence, rate, and variability of communicative development.

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