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J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2019 Jun 19;62(6):1798-1812. doi: 10.1044/2019_JSLHR-L-18-0275. Epub 2019 Jun 3.

Effects of Signs on Word Learning by Children With Developmental Language Disorder.

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Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Royal Dutch Kentalis, Kentalis Academy, Sint-Michielsgestel, the Netherlands.


Purpose This study investigated the effects of signs on word learning by children with developmental language disorder (DLD), in comparison with typically developing (TD) children, and the relation between a possible sign effect and children's linguistic and cognitive abilities. Method Nine- to 11-year-old children with DLD ( n = 40) and TD children ( n = 26) participated in a word learning experiment. Half of the spoken pseudowords were taught with a pseudosign with learning outcomes being assessed in accuracy and speed. To investigate whether sign effects would hold for children with varying linguistic and cognitive abilities, we measured children's linguistic (vocabulary, syntax) and cognitive (divided attention, working memory [WM], lexical access) skills. Results The children with DLD showed a positive sign effect in both accuracy and speed. For the TD children, there was no effect of signs on word learning. Principal component analyses of the linguistic and cognitive measures evidenced a 4-component solution (language skills, visual WM, verbal WM, and executive attention). Repeated-measures analyses of covariance with the component scores as covariates yielded no significant interactions with the linguistic and cognitive components. Conclusions Our results suggest that children with DLD benefit from signs for word learning, regardless of their linguistic and cognitive abilities. This implies that using sign-supported speech as a means to improve the vocabulary skills of children with DLD is effective, even still at the age of 9-11 years.

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