|Speech and Language Group ||
The Speech and Language Group is a sub-section of the Perinatal Research Centre.
The Speech and Language Research Group has multiple active research interests including: the communication development of children who are born preterm; phonological development and disorders; bilingualism; literacy difficulties (often associated with speech disorders); and clinical efficacy studies.
Communication Outcomes of Preterm Infants
The research aims to understand the complex dynamic impairments of children born preterm and the impact the impairments have on school performance using a psycholinguistic approach. The psycholinguistic assessment approach has been successfully applied to other groups of children with speech and language impairments. The approach has not been previously applied to the study of children born preterm but the outcomes would have implications at three levels. Knowledge of the relationships between medical complications that affect neurodevelopment and specific processing deficits will allow a better theoretical understanding of the mechanisms of language acquisition. Data on the risk factors associated with different processing problems will allow better monitoring of high-risk individuals. Such information would be invaluable for developing preventative treatment strategies.
Phonological Development and Disorders
Until children are around five years of age, their pronunciations of words do not always match adult pronunciation. When they begin to produce their first words between 12-18 months, their pronunciations are very different from those of their carers. Once they have a vocabulary of around 50 words, their pronunciations become consistent and differ systematically from what adults perceive as the ‘correct’ form (e.g. tain for crane, efen for elephant). Previous studies have described the sequence of normal development. Our research projects are attempting to understand why children make errors and why their error patterns change over time. We are also concerned with understanding why approximately 6% of children have speech difficulties and why some of these children develop literacy difficulties.
The literature puts forward three main accounts of phonological errors – whether developmental or disordered - Oro-motor skills, Input skills, Cognitive-linguistic ability.
Experiments are examining each of these accounts in one group of normally developing children and one group of children with speech disorder.
Other experiments approach the same research questions in different ways by focusing on:
We are involved in a project in Brisbane, where there are a significant number of children with Somoan or Vietnamese as their first language, that will address issues about difference vs disorder in phonological acquisition. An European Union funded project in Malta is investigating how specific linguistic factors in bilingualism affect development (e.g., simultaneous vs successive acquisition, language pair, order of language learning)
There are a number of clinical trials currently underway. One project is evaluating different therapeutic approaches for different subgroups of speech disorder. Another project is examining the effect of whole class intervention on language and phonological awareness development in the preschool population. While another project is examining the effect of a whole school) intervention program (phonological awareness and letter sound knowledge on literacy outcomes.
Literacy difficulties are often associated with speech disorders, but the relationship between spoken and written difficulties is complex. Some children with disordered speech have later literacy difficulties, some do not; some children with a history of disordered speech have reading and spelling problems, some only spelling difficulties. Several projects are examining factors affecting the acquisition of reading and spelling.