Primary developmental language impairment (LI) affects over 3 million children in the U.S., many of whom are disadvantaged socially and academically by small and shallow vocabularies. Currently, little is known about how the word learning processes of people with LI changes over development. This critical gap in the knowledge base prevents the design of vocabulary interventions that are developmentally appropriate. The design of such interventions is the long-term goal. The current objective is to discover how the word learning of children with LI changes over developmental time. The central hypothesis is that the challenge of word learning at different ages varies with the word-learning situation, the component of the word to be learned, and the development of underlying cognitive mechanisms. The project designed to test this hypothesis compares children with LI to age-mates with normal language development as they learn and retain new words over the course of one week during each of four years beginning at age six. This approach is innovative because it departs from the status quo by examining learning longitudinally. The project involves two specific aims: 1) to establish a developmental trajectory of word learning associated with LI that determines a) how learning and development vary with the learning situation and b) how learning and development vary with the component of the word to be learned; and 2) to specify the cognitive mechanisms underlying this developmental trajectory. The expected contribution is a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the word learning challenges associated with LI and how these challenges change during a crucial period, the first years of formal schooling. This contribution is significant because it is expected to advance and expand understanding of the dynamic interaction between word learning and cognitive development. Vocabulary interventions are not currently tailored to focus on the most critical aspects of the problem at the given developmental level of the client with LI because of ignorance about what is critical and when. By addressing this issue, this project will offer new possibilities for tailoring preventive and therapeutic interventions in light of the child's developmental needs.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research is relevant to public health because it focuses on primary developmental language impairment (LI), a condition that affects 7% of children, or approximately 3 million children in the United States. Children with LI often present with small and shallow vocabularies and this presentation is disabling because a robust vocabulary is essential for social, academic, and professional success. The project is relevant to the mission of NIH because it is consistent with their goal to acquire new knowledge to help treat disabilities.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
Program Officer
Cooper, Judith
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Father Flanagan's Boys' Home
Boys Town
United States
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Hall, Jessica; Owen Van Horne, Amanda J; McGregor, Karla K et al. (2018) Individual and Developmental Differences in Distributional Learning. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch 49:694-709
McGregor, Karla; Arbisi-Kelm, Tim; Eden, Nichole (2017) The encoding of word forms into memory may be challenging for college students with developmental language impairment. Int J Speech Lang Pathol 19:43-57
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Perelmutter, Bogi; McGregor, Karla K; Gordon, Katherine R (2017) Assistive Technology Interventions for Adolescents and Adults with Learning Disabilities: An Evidence-Based Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Comput Educ 114:139-163
Hall, Jessica; Owen Van Horne, Amanda; McGregor, Karla K et al. (2017) Distributional Learning in College Students With Developmental Language Disorder. J Speech Lang Hear Res 60:3270-3283
Hall, Jessica; McGregor, Karla K; Oleson, Jacob (2017) Weaknesses in Lexical-Semantic Knowledge Among College Students With Specific Learning Disabilities: Evidence From a Semantic Fluency Task. J Speech Lang Hear Res 60:640-653
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Becker, Toni C; McGregor, Karla K (2016) Learning by listening to lectures is a challenge for college students with developmental language impairment. J Commun Disord 64:32-44
McGregor, Karla K; Alper, Rebecca M (2015) Sleep Disorders as a Risk to Language Learning and Use. EBP Briefs 10:1-21
Sheng, Li; Byrd, Courtney T; McGregor, Karla K et al. (2015) List memory in young adults with language learning disability. J Speech Lang Hear Res 58:336-44

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