Communicative Functioning in Maltreated Toddlers

Wendy J. Coster, Michelle S. Gersten, Marjorie Beeghly, Dante Cicchetti

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98 Scopus citations


The communicative behavior of 31-month-old maltreated toddlers and their mothers was examined in semistructured and unstructured free play settings. Maltreated (n = 20) and demographically matched nonmaltreated comparison (n = 20) toddlers were assessed on mean length of utterance (MLU), receptive vocabulary, functional communication, and conversational relatedness. The mothers' language also was examined on functional communication, contingency, efforts to elicit response, and types of questions asked. Results revealed a pattern in the maltreated toddlers of shorter MLU, less descriptive speech (particularly about their own activities and feelings), and proportionally less relevant speech. The language of the mothers did not differ in the 2 groups; however, in the maltreated group there was a relation between the mothers' talk about internal states and the child's self-related speech. The implications of these results for understanding the impact of the maltreating environment on development are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1020-1029
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1989
Externally publishedYes


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