Risk Factors for Language Problems
Along with typical development, work in the Speech Development Laboratory has examined the perceptual underpinnings of language-learning problems. The principal motivation for this work is to improve our understanding of the language-learning problems faced by children with hearing loss. However, studies with other populations of children extend our understanding of the effects of hearing loss on language learning and, at the same time, provide insights into the problems faced by those populations. A population of special interest is children with reading disorders.

Previously, children varying in amount and kind of early language experience have participated in studies of speech perception, phonological processing and awareness, and syntactic comprehension. Currently, children involved in data collection include those with early, chronic histories of otitis media with effusion, children living in conditions of low socio-economic status, children with permanent hearing loss, children with reading and/or language problems, and children with demonstrable phonological disorders. At a very general level, the premise is being explored that all these children experience difficulty having to do with the perceptual processing of linguistic signals that disturbs their access to phonemic structure.

That situation can present difficulty for language processing. For example, language users who readily recover segmental structure show better recall of linguistic material than those who do not. The reason behind this phenomenon is that processing strategies using phonemic codes to store words in working memory provide advantages over strategies that do not. This can be demonstrated by the finding that adults with normal language abilities more accurately recall lists of nonrhyming words than lists of rhyming words:
The Ontogeny of Segmental Speech Organization
The reason is simply that nonrhyming words are more dissimilar phonologically, and so a phonological code enhances recall.

So far, data collected have supported the hypothesis: For the most part, children in the groups studied have demonstrated similar deficits in speech perception, phonological processing and awareness, and syntactic comprehension.

But work continues, with a strong interest in the hypothesis that language problems are manifestations of more basic deficits in perceptual processing. Understanding this connection should help shape future interventions.
[rhyming words]
[nonrhyming words]