The development of executive function and language skills in the early school years.
Gooch D., Thompson P., Nash HM., Snowling MJ., Hulme C.
BACKGROUND: The developmental relationships between executive functions (EF) and early language skills are unclear. This study explores the longitudinal relationships between children's early EF and language skills in a sample of children with a wide range of language abilities including children at risk of dyslexia. In addition, we investigated whether these skills independently predict children's attention/behaviour skills. METHOD: Data are presented from 243 children at four time points. Children were selected for being at risk of reading difficulties either because of a family history of dyslexia (FR; N = 90) or because of concerns regarding their language development (LI; N = 79) or as typically developing controls (TD; N = 74). The children completed tasks to assess their executive function and language skills at ages 4, 5 and 6 years. At 6 (T4) and 7 years (T5) parents and teachers rated the children's attention/behaviour skills. RESULTS: There was a strong concurrent relationship between language and EF at each assessment. Longitudinal analyses indicated a considerable degree of stability in children's language and EF skills: the influence of language on later EF skills (and vice versa) was weak and not significant in the current sample. Children's EF, but not language, skills at T3 predicted attention/behaviour ratings at T4/T5. CONCLUSIONS: There is a strong concurrent association between language and EF skills during the preschool and early school years, when children with language impairment show persistent EF deficits. Latent variables measuring language and EF show high longitudinal stability with little evidence of significant or strong reciprocal influences between these constructs. EF, but not language, skills predict later ratings of children's attention and behaviour.