Public Release:  $1.5 million clinical trial will test book reading to treat language impairment

University of Kansas

LAWRENCE -- A University of Kansas researcher has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to conduct a clinical trial of book reading to help kindergarten children with Specific Language Impairment learn words.

Holly Storkel, associate professor and associate chair of KU's Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders department, will lead the five-year study aimed at developing an effective treatment for children with SLI, a subtle and often undiagnosed language impairment even though it is as common as ADHD -- affecting about 7 percent of children.

"Children with SLI have difficulty learning new words which puts them at risk for later reading problems and academic failure," said Storkel. Some research has found that children with SLI need to hear a word in context two to three times more than their peers to learn them, she said.

Determining exactly how many more times children with SLI need to hear a word to learn it and the best way to expose kids to words could lead to the development of an effective treatment, something that Storkel says is a critical need.

That treatment could be a modified version of interactive book reading, a research-based strategy in which an adult discusses vocabulary words in a storybook with children before, during and after reading the book by describing or defining the word and showing other ways to use it.

Once the researchers know the number of times children with SLI need to hear a word to learn it, they will test whether it is more effective to maximize the number of times children hear the word in a story book or the number of times they hear the book read.

Storkel said that there's some evidence that hearing the book more times might be important in making the treatment effective. "Hearing the book on different days capitalizes on the benefits of sleep for learning," she said, "since it is thought that sleep may help strengthen memories in a variety of ways, leading to better learning outcomes."

While this clinical trial is about optimizing interactive book reading as a possible SLI treatment, and would have to be confirmed in a larger study, Storkel said that she expects to be able to give general guidance to parents and others about how to help children with SLI learn words as a result of the trial.

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