Friday, November 8, 2019

Executive Functioning and Narrative Language in Children with Dyslexia

Fisher, E. L., Barton-Hulsey, A., Walter, C., Sevcik, R. A., & Morris, R. (2019). Executive Functioning and Narrative Language in Children with Dyslexia. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 28, 1127-1138.

We can think about language skills in terms of its structure, the vocabulary and grammar used to make sentences and send messages. We can also think about language in terms of its function, that is, the meaning of words (semantics) or stories (narratives) in our messages. There are many cognitive processes that support language structure and function. Phonological processing refers to the ability to use speech sounds to support oral and written language, and it supports structural aspects of language. Children with a specific reading disability known as dyslexia have been found to have poor phonological processing, and in particular, poor phonological awareness, or the awareness of understanding the sound structure of one’s language, and phonological recoding, or the ability to map sounds onto the letters of a language. Executive function is a term used to describe the set of skills that allow individuals to establish goal-oriented behaviours such as initiating, planning, and organizing.  Executive functioning consists of three skills: shifting, inhibition and working memory updating, and they support functional aspects of language ability. Some children with dyslexia have been found to have impairments in executive function as well.

The present study examined the influence of executive function on language abilities at the structural and functional level in a sample of children with dyslexia. Children with dyslexia completed measures of language structure and function, and measures of executive function. Results revealed a correlation between measures of inhibition and structural language abilities, and between measures of working memory and both structural and functional language. When examining groups based on both language and executive function, children with both low language and low executive function were found to have more difficulty with narrative language than the other groups. Additional analyses suggested that the working memory measure accounted for variance in the narrative language measures beyond what was accounted for by structural language.

These results suggest executive function skills support a child’s language ability. Specifically, working memory contributes to a child’s narrative retell abilities. This research adds to the evidence that there are a number of factors that support language ability and conducting assessments that look at multiple components of language and executive function will help a child’s language profile.

Blogger: Meghan Vollebregt is a student in the combined SLP MClSc/PhD program working under the supervision of Dr. Lisa Archibald.

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