Leclercq, A. L., Majerus, S., Prigent, G, & Maillart, C. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 56, 265-280.
It has been thought that children with specific language impairment (SLI) have poor attention, which may sometimes be the cause of their poor performance on language tasks. In this study, the authors argue that comprehending sentences may be especially taxing on one’s mental resources for attention. Comprehending a sentence involves engaging in multiple processes including: Processing the words as you hear them, accessing long-term memory for word meaning, and maintaining and updating the products of the sentence while still interpreting and incorporating incoming information. In order to manipulate this complex set of information, the child needs to have sufficient attention.
In the present study, the authors used a dual-task paradigm to asses how attention was related to sentence processing capacities in children with SLI and typically develop children. The sentence comprehension task was the primary task, and an interfering non-verbal task, presumed to tax one’s attentional resources, was the secondary task. Performance of children with SLI was compared to age-matched and grammar-matched control groups. It was hypothesized that while engaging in the attentionally-demanding secondary task, the performance of the children with SLI on the primary sentence recall task would be especially impaired because of a resource-sharing trade-off.
The results of this study revealed that children with SLI have poor attentional capacity. For children with SLI and their grammatical controls, performance on the sentence comprehension task was impaired when they were also engaged in the secondary non-verbal task. However, these results do not support the hypothesis that poor attentional abilities are a core deficit in SLI. Rather, because children with SLI and younger, grammar matched controls demonstrated similar levels of performance on the dual task, it was suggested that SLI is characterized by a slowed development of attentional and language domains, rather than an attention deficit.
These findings suggest that the development of attention in children with SLI may lag behind their peers, and this does have implications for their language abilities.
Blogger: Nicolette Noonan is a Master’s student in the Speech and Language Sciences program.