Researchers write ABCs of language disorder

Summary: Researchers publish a paper aimed at children to explain developmental language disorder (DLD). Those with DLD struggle to learn and comprehend oral and written communication, despite being of normal or above normal intellectual ability.

Source: University of Western Ontario

While we expect to see scientists publishing in journals aimed at peers, a pair of Western researchers recently targeted a younger audience for their work – a lot younger.

Reviewers for their newest scholarly paper, Developmental Language Disorder: The Childhood Condition We Need to Talk About, are ages 8, 10 and 13. When not reviewing science papers for Frontiers for Young Minds, young Amelie feeds elderly elephants in Thailand, while co-reviewers Ari and Elliot describe themselves as “book hounds and lifelong neighbors.”

Frontiers for Young Minds is an open-access science journal written for kids, reviewed and edited by kids. Recent articles included an exploration of star formation, innovations in brain-computer interface and parenting in invertebrate animals.

“Writing for Frontiers has been incredible,” said Western graduate student Alyssa Kuiack, lead author of the paper, which she chose as part of her final project in Communication Sciences and Disorders professor Lisa Archibald’s Speech-Language Pathology class.

“We researchers get so caught up in our own jargon, our own terminology. It’s good to hear someone say, ‘This doesn’t make sense. This is above our vocabulary or understanding.’”

Papers for the publication are all written by academic researchers and follow the scientific method, including an abstract, conflict-of-interest statement, references, and citations.

“It’s just a bit more reader-friendly, more accessible than traditional science journals,” said Kuiack, a masters/Ph.D. student in Clinical Sciences in Speech-Language Pathology/Speech Science.

People with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) struggle to learn and understand oral and written communication, despite their normal or above-normal intelligence. Their vocabulary and grammar fall below their classmates – with the result that they have difficulty grasping new material if it’s taught in conventional ways, or showing in written form what they’ve learned.

DLD is a relatively recent term, having been endorsed in 2017 by a panel of experts out of concern that a wide range of alternate terminologies was hampering diagnosis and treatment.

That’s one reason Kuiack and Archibald wanted to reach younger readers.

“DLD is very common. If your class was made up of 28 students, there would be about two students in your class with DLD,” the article explains.

The article identifies what the disorder is, who has it and how children, their families, and teachers can work through it.

This shows a cartoon of children talking to an adult
The article identifies what the disorder is, who has it and how children, their families and teachers can work through it. The image is credited to University of Western Ontario.

“It’s so important to give kids this information because kids really aren’t hearing it in their classrooms, even though they almost certainly have classmates with DLD,” Kuiack said.

Added Archibald, “Equipping kids about their disorder is an important piece. Kids really need to be self-advocates, especially as they get older.”

Writing science for younger readers also helps researchers hone their thoughts and communicate research clearly for a broader range of audiences, Archibald said. “It offers our students important practice in different kinds of writing.”

Kuiack said the review process was similar to that of other journals, with questions and suggestions shared among reviewers and authors through a message board. She found the process all positive and said it’s encouraging to be part of a journal that inspires a new generation of scientists.

About this neuroscience research article

University of Western Ontario
Media Contacts:
Deborah Van Brenk – University of Western Ontario
Image Source:
The image is credited to University of Western Ontario.

Original Research: Open access
“Developmental Language Disorder: The Childhood Condition We Need to Start Talking About”. Alyssa Kuiack and
Lisa Archibald.
Frontiers for Young Minds. doi:10.3389/frym.2019.00094


Developmental Language Disorder: The Childhood Condition We Need to Start Talking About

Using language is a skill that allows us to share our ideas and feelings, to learn in school, and to understand the world around us. Unfortunately, using and understanding language is not easy for everyone—especially for people with developmental language disorder (or DLD). DLD is a hidden but very common condition affecting about 1 out of 15 children. DLD has been given different names in the past, which has sometimes made it confusing for professionals to talk about the condition and for children with DLD to get help. Researchers have studied the different factors that may contribute to DLD, the different types of language problems children with DLD might have, and how children with DLD can be helped. It is very important that we raise awareness for DLD so that the condition will become less mysterious and the lives of the many children who have DLD will become easier.

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