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Do Children With Tourette Syndrome Have An Advantage at Language?

Summary: Researchers discover children with Tourette syndrome are faster at assembling sounds into words than typically developing children.

Source: Newcastle University.

Children with Tourette syndrome may be faster at assembling sounds.

Researchers from Newcastle University UK, and Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown in the USA, found that children with the neurological disorder were faster at assembling sounds into words, the part of language called phonology, than typically developing children. They believe this is linked to abnormalities in the brain that underpin the disorder.

Tourette syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by motor and vocal tics – semi-voluntary movements and vocalisations. According to the charity Tourettes Action UK, it is estimated the condition affects about one child in every hundred, and that more than 300,000 children and adults in the UK live with it.

Lead author Cristina Dye, Lecturer in child language development at Newcastle University, says “Research examining children with disorders such as Tourette syndrome usually explore difficulties or weaknesses. We wanted to examine potential areas of strength, as a way to broaden understanding of this disorder. However, further research is needed to determine whether this apparent strength could translate into actual advantages in daily life.”

Striking possibility

Senior author Michael Ullman, Professor of Neuroscience at Georgetown University, added: “The finding that children with Tourette syndrome are faster at assembling sounds in phonology is consistent with our previous finding that they are fast at another aspect of language: putting together meaningful parts of words, such as “walk” and “-ed”, which is called morphology.

Image shows two children talking.

“We believe the underlying brain abnormality of Tourette syndrome that leads to rapid tics may also lead to the speeded performance of other processes,” said Dr Dye. NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the Newcastle University press release.

“Together, the two studies suggest that children with Tourette syndrome may be fast at processing grammar more generally, that is, at rule-governed combination in language. This is a striking possibility, since grammar is so important in giving language its amazing flexibility and power.”

The researchers say findings may have clinical implications. “We know that children with most neurodevelopmental disorders have difficulty assembling sounds. So such tasks could potentially be used as an early predictor or diagnostic of Tourette syndrome in at-risk children”, says Dr Dye.

Non-repetition tasks

Thirteen children diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and 14 typically developing children, aged between eight and 16 years, took part in the study. The youngsters were asked to repeat a set of made-up words, such as ‘naichovabe’. In such “non-word repetition tasks” people seem to non-consciously take apart and then recombine the sounds while repeating them. Although the two groups of children were similarly accurate at repeating the made-up words, the children with Tourette syndrome were much faster than the control group.

The new result is also consistent with evidence suggesting faster cognitive processing in other areas such as motor function. “We believe the underlying brain abnormality of Tourette syndrome that leads to rapid tics may also lead to the speeded performance of other processes,” said Dr Dye.

About this language research article

Source: Newcastle University
Image Source: This NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the Newcastle University press release.
Original Research: Abstract for “A verbal strength in children with Tourette syndrome? Evidence from a non-word repetition task” by Cristina D. Dye, Matthew Walenski, Stewart H. Mostofsky, and Michael T. Ullman in Brain and Language. Published online August 1 2016 doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2016.07.005

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
Newcastle University. “Do Children With Tourette Syndrome Have An Advantage at Language?.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 29 September 2016.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/tourette-language-psychology-5156/>.
Newcastle University. (2016, September 29). Do Children With Tourette Syndrome Have An Advantage at Language?. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved September 29, 2016 from http://neurosciencenews.com/tourette-language-psychology-5156/
Newcastle University. “Do Children With Tourette Syndrome Have An Advantage at Language?.” http://neurosciencenews.com/tourette-language-psychology-5156/ (accessed September 29, 2016).

Abstract

A verbal strength in children with Tourette syndrome? Evidence from a non-word repetition task

Tourette syndrome (TS) is characterized by motor and vocal tics, and frontal/basal-ganglia abnormalities. Whereas cognitive strengths have been found in other neurodevelopmental disorders, less attention has been paid to strengths in TS, or to verbal strengths in any neurodevelopmental disorder. We examined whether the finding of speeded TS production of rule-governed morphological forms (e.g., “slipped”) that involve composition (Walenski, Mostofsky, & Ullman, 2007) might extend to another language domain, phonology. Thirteen children with TS and 14 typically-developing (TD) children performed a non-word repetition task: they repeated legal phonological strings (e.g.,“naichovabe”), a task that taps rule-governed (de)composition. Parallel to the morphology findings, the children with TS showed speeded production, while the two groups had similar accuracy. The results were not explained by potentially confounding factors, including IQ. Overall, the findings suggest that rule-governed grammatical composition may be speeded in TS, perhaps due to frontal/basal-ganglia abnormalities.

“A verbal strength in children with Tourette syndrome? Evidence from a non-word repetition task” by Cristina D. Dye, Matthew Walenski, Stewart H. Mostofsky, and Michael T. Ullman in Brain and Language. Published online August 1 2016 doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2016.07.005

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