Language Development in Individuals With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: From Phenotypes to Treatments

Leonard J Abbeduto, A. McDuffie, A. J. Thurman, S. T. Kover

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Research on language development has increasingly been influenced by advances in genomic medicine and other fields providing insight into the varied causes of intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs). In this chapter, we review research on language development from this etiological lens, focusing on three common genetic conditions associated with IDD: Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and Williams syndrome. We focus on describing the language phenotypes of these conditions as well as the factors that shape their development. We conclude that a profile of relative strengths and challenges in language has emerged that aligns predictably with etiology, as well as with individual characteristics and factors such as IQ, gender, and autism status. More fine-grained relationships have also emerged and helped explain between- and within-syndrome heterogeneity in IDD, including relationships between specific cognitive skills (eg, auditory memory) and specific language domains (eg, vocabulary). This more nuanced, etiologically based, description of language development has set the stage for more efficacious language interventions. We also consider new approaches to the treatment of language problems and the measurement of their efficacy, which are serving as models for a transformation of behavioral and pharmacological treatments in IDD more generally.


  • Down syndrome
  • Expressive language sampling
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Language assessment
  • Language development
  • Language intervention
  • Outcome measures
  • Parent-implemented intervention
  • Telehealth
  • Williams syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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