The linguistic skills such as the ability to form, store, and access complete mental graphemic representations of written words in memory (initial orthographic knowledge acquisition) and the ability to manipulate and combine the smallest units of language capable of carrying meaning (morphological awareness) may significantly and uniquely contribute to early literacy success for children with language impairment (LI). These skills have been documented to be uniquely and significantly predictive of literacy success in typical children (Apel, Wolter, &Masterson;2006;Deacon &Kirby;Hammill, 2004;Wolter, Wood, &D'zatko, 2009). Recently initial orthographic knowledge acquisition was found to be associated with literacy success in children with LI (Wolter &Apel, 2010;Wolter, Self, &Apel, 2011) and findings from a meta-analysis proved significantly important in improving the literacy abilities for children with impairments in reading, learning, or language (Goodwin &Ahn, 2010).
The specific aims of this research are to determine: 1) whether or not children with and without LI, as early as second semester kindergarten, demonstrate the use of orthographic knowledge and/or morphological awareness;2) potential differences between kindergarten children with LI and those with typical language (TL) for how they acquire initial orthographic knowledge and morphological awareness;and 3) whether initial orthographic knowledge acquisition and morphological awareness uniquely influence reading and spelling abilities in children with LI and those with TL in kindergarten and first grade. One hundred kindergarten children will be recruited for the proposed study (50 with LI, 50 with TL). LI status will be confirmed with language testing and TL children will be matched by grade. An orthographic knowledge measure developed and published by the PI and colleagues (Wolter &Apel, 2010), and two nonstandardized morphological awareness tasks adapted and published by the PI (e.g., Wolter, Wood, D'zatko, 2009) will be administered. In addition, phonological awareness, reading, spelling, and working memory skills will be assessed. These measures will be initially administered in the second semester of kindergarten and again in the subsequent first-grade school year. Chi Square, ANOVA, correlation, and regression analyses will be conducted to determine whether children with LI evidence orthographic knowledge and/or morphological awareness, perform significantly different on these linguistic measures than children with TL, and whether those linguistic skills contribute unique variance on literacy. If these skills are foud to be less robust in children with LI and uniquely predictive of literacy success, then these findings may lead to a more all-encompassing early predictive literacy screening measure for those children with LI. A literacy screening that helps to identify the specific literacy deficit associated with LI may help with placement of children in the appropriate early remedial programs designed to minimize or eliminate the effects of the identified deficit.
Children with language impairment are at risk for literacy deficits and will likely require long-term special education services throughout their school careers. Early and appropriate identification and intervention with these children may reduce the literacy deficit and long-term need for special education services. Ultimately, the development of improved sensitive screening tools, as proposed in this application, may help to predict and perhaps prevent literacy deficits.