The importance of executive function (EF) in social, emotional, academic and career domains is well established. The goal of the proposed research is to investigate the association between language and EF abilities in school-age children with typical and atypical development. There are two separate lines of research that provide empirical support for the existence of a relationship between language and EF. First, research on bilingualism suggests that experience with two languages facilitates EF skills. Second, the disabilities literature has focused on whether dysfunction in executive control may be one of the factors underlying deficits associated with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). In both accounts, there is some conflicting evidence and both approaches are underspecified in terms of the particular components of EF and specific language functions that may be linked. The proposed project will bridge the bilingualism and the disorders literatures by examining the relationship between language and executive function in typically-developing bilingual and monolingual children, children with SLI, and children with ASD. The theoretical motivation for exploring the relationship between language and EF stems from a leading developmental theory of executive control proposed by Zelazo and colleagues. By investigating EF performance across groups with varying language abilities we aim to test a critical assumption of this model related to the use of language to manage executive control. A total of 160 children (40 per group) will participate in four studies designed to address the following three specific aims: 1) Compare the performance of bilingual, monolingual, SLI, and ASD groups matched on age and nonverbal cognition on a range of EF measures; 2) Examine the concurrent and longitudinal relationship between specific components of EF and language knowledge, processing, and learning across the groups; and 3) Directly assess the role of verbal mediation in EF across these groups with typical and atypical language abilities. The proposed project represents an innovative approach to establishing a comprehensive conceptual framework that spans the extent of individual variation from enhanced abilities in language/EF to impairments in language/EF. Findings from this project also have potential implications for targeted interventions for children with language disorders.

Public Health Relevance

The goal of the proposed project is to examine the association between language and executive function - defined as the cognitive processes that underlie goal-directed behavior - in school-age children with typical and atypical development. Executive function is critical for learning and academic achievement, self- regulation, and social competence. This research will provide insights into how children's linguistic skills relate to ther executive function abilities by examining a wide range of individual variation in language ability, including bilingual and monolingual children with typical development, children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI), and children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Results from this project will further our understanding of the nature of SLI and ASD and could have implications for targeted interventions with these populations.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
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Cooper, Judith
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University of Wisconsin Madison
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United States
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Davidson, Meghan M; Kaushanskaya, Margarita; Ellis Weismer, Susan (2018) Reading Comprehension in Children With and Without ASD: The Role of Word Reading, Oral Language, and Working Memory. J Autism Dev Disord 48:3524-3541
Park, Jisook; Ellis Weismer, Susan; Kaushanskaya, Margarita (2018) Changes in executive function over time in bilingual and monolingual school-aged children. Dev Psychol 54:1842-1853
Roebuck, Hettie; Sindberg, Heidi; Weismer, Susan Ellis (2018) The Role of Language in Nonlinguistic Stimuli: Comparing Inhibition in Children With Language Impairment. J Speech Lang Hear Res 61:1216-1225
Gangopadhyay, Ishanti; McDonald, Margarethe; Ellis Weismer, Susan et al. (2018) Planning Abilities in Bilingual and Monolingual Children: Role of Verbal Mediation. Front Psychol 9:323
Gross, Megan; Kaushanskaya, Margarita (2018) Contributions of nonlinguistic task-shifting to language control in bilingual children. Biling (Camb Engl) 21:181-194
Ellis Weismer, Susan; Davidson, Meghan M; Gangopadhyay, Ishanti et al. (2017) The role of nonverbal working memory in morphosyntactic processing by children with specific language impairment and autism spectrum disorders. J Neurodev Disord 9:28
Kaushanskaya, Margarita; Park, Ji Sook; Gangopadhyay, Ishanti et al. (2017) The Relationship Between Executive Functions and Language Abilities in Children: A Latent Variables Approach. J Speech Lang Hear Res 60:912-923
Davidson, Meghan M; Ellis Weismer, Susan (2017) Reading comprehension of ambiguous sentences by school-age children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Res 10:2002-2022
Kaushanskaya, Margarita; Gross, Megan; Sheena, Enanna et al. (2017) Novel Morpheme Learning in Monolingual and Bilingual Children. Am J Speech Lang Pathol 26:301-315
Venker, Courtney E (2017) Spoken word recognition in children with autism spectrum disorder: The role of visual disengagement. Autism 21:821-829

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