Project 4. Neurodevelopmental Studies of Language and Literacy The goal of the Program Project is to study hierarchical levels of neural processing and cognition to identify the specific underpinnings of cognitive deficits in children (ages 7-10) with different neurodevelopmental disorders - Specific Language Impairment (LI), Early Unilateral Focal Brain Lesions (FL), High Functioning Autism (HFA), and Williams Syndrome (WS). Within this framework, the role of Project 4 will be to examine language in the auditory and visual modalities (spoken and written) at varying levels of complexity. Our overarching goal is to understand the relations between the development of literacy and spoken language, their relation to other cognitive systems and their neural substrates. Literacy, the ability to read and write, is crucial for successful school performance and adult life;moreover, literacy represents the major linguistic challenge for school age children. Our studies over the past 20 years have identified differential trajectories for productive and receptive spoken language in FL, LI, WS and TD, and they display distinctive profiles for spoken language development. However, we know little about the development of reading and writing (that is, language in the visual domain) in these same populations. In this renewal, we examine how these spoken language profiles map onto literacy to test competing developmental hypotheses of continuity and discontinuity in the acquisition of literacy.
Aim 1 : Developing Literacy: we will test these competing hypotheses by comparing performance on spoken and written language, both expressive and receptive. We will establish group profiles, identifying strengths and weaknesses at different levels of language complexity (phonological, word, sentence, discourse).
Aim 2 : Language for Social Purposes focuses on the social aspects of discourse (with Project 3).
Aim 3 : The Role of Sensory Processing and Working Memory compares our profiles of language and literacy with outcomes from Projects 2 and 3, testing continuity/discontinuity of language proficiency with early sensory, working memory and spatial attentional processes.
Aim 4 : The Neural Underpinnings of Language will test the relationship between Project 4 language outcomes and measures of brain anatomy to test two competing models of language development and organization, the Modular and Distributed Models. Together, our results will yield profiles of language and literacy and their relations in typical and clinical groups, identifying the degree to which impairments in higher-level abilities are linked to deficits at more basic levels of language. Within the context of the center, our studies will permit testing our hypotheses across other cognitive domains as well as mapping the neural substrates serving these functions. Insights from these studies will add critical knowledge to our understanding of neurodevelopment as well as contribute to more informed diagnostic and treatment methods.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Specialized Center (P50)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZNS1-SRB-R)
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University of California San Diego
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