Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Grappling with grammar: How the brain copes in language impaired kids

Researchers at UCL (University College London) have discovered that a system in the brain for processing grammar is impaired in some children with specific language impairment (SLI), but that these children compensate with a different brain area.

The findings offer new hope for sufferers of SLI, which affects seven per cent of children and is a major cause of many not reaching their educational potential. To date, it has not been clear whether these children generally struggle to process language, or whether they have specific problems with grammar. The UCL findings reveal the latter for a sub-group (G-SLI), and suggest that educational methods that enhance these compensatory mechanisms may help such children overcome their difficulties.

Grammar is a complex and exclusively human ability, yet by the age of three most children can make grammatically correct sentences. Children with G-SLI, however, continue to make grammatical errors, sometimes into adulthood. As teenagers they might make errors that other children rarely make after age five; for example, they may struggle to understand who ‘him’ or ‘himself’ refers to in the sentence “Mowgli said Baloo was tickling him/himself”, or when asking a question say “Who Joe see someone?” rather than “Who did Joe see?”.

In the UCL study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, electrophysiological brain measurements of children with SLI showed normal responses for a variety of language tasks, but a specific deficit in brain circuitry involved in grammatical processing. The study, published online in the journal PLoS ONE, also found that the G-SLI children appeared to be partially compensating by using neural circuitry associated with vocabulary/word meaning or world knowledge (semantic processing). For example, a child could work out the meaning of “The baby was carried by the old man” but not “The girl was pushed by the boy”. The latter sentence requires knowledge of grammar to understand who is doing what to whom.

Professor Heather van der Lely, Director of the UCL Centre for Developmental Language Disorders & Cognitive Neuroscience, says: “Specific language impairment is not as well known as autism, yet the disorder affects seven times as many children, and prevents them reaching their potential.

“We have discovered that a number of these children have specific problems with grammar, reflected in our measurements of a circuit in the brain which appears to be uniquely involved in grammar. G-SLI children with a deficit here appear to be compensating by harnessing another brain area involved in general word processing. Not only does this offer an intriguing insight into how such children may be coping with language, but it suggests a new way is needed to help them to overcome their difficulties in broader education.

“Government departments are starting to recognise the problem, but we need more resources. Our results suggest that enhanced general language teaching is unlikely to help – these children need focussed and specialised help. It is not a question of giving these children more of the same, but re-directing them to use the skills they do have to understand and communicate. Surprisingly, only a handful of experts in the world are conducting brain research into children with SLI.”

If parents think that their child might have or has SLI, they should seek referral to a speech and language therapist.

Professor van der Lely will be speaking about her research at a UCL Lunch Hour Lecture, ‘Living without a language instinct’, on Thursday 13 March 2008 at the Darwin Lecture Theatre, University College London. The talk is part of Brain Awareness Week, to raise public awareness of the advances and benefits of brain research.

Jenny Gimpel | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Science Education:

nachricht Decision-making research in children: Rules of thumb are learned with time
19.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht Young people discover the "Learning Center"
20.09.2016 | Research Center Pharmaceutical Engineering GmbH

All articles from Science Education >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>