Brain Waves Aid Study of Language Impairment
Callier Researcher Hopes Measurements Can Help Improve Therapies

By looking at how the brain responds to different aspects of grammar, specifically nouns and verbs, researchers at the UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders are hoping to provide a better understanding of the nature of language disorders in children.

Dr. Diane Ogiela, a post-doctoral fellow at the Callier Center and principal investigator of the study, is using brain waves to study the nature of Specific Language Impairment (SLI) in children. Children with SLI have difficulty in language development while appearing to have otherwise normal cognitive abilities. Grammar is particularly challenging for children with SLI.

“We know that children with a language impairment have difficulty with verbs, which play an important part in developing more complex language skills,” said Ogiela. “By using electroencepholography, also called EEG, we can analyze the brain waves to see how children with language impairment respond to verbs as compared to nouns and to what extent their responses vary from children with typical language.”

To measure the brain waves, the researchers place a cap embedded with sensors on the head of a participant. The participant then listens to recorded sentences that elicit neurological responses to particular nouns and verbs. The researchers then analyze and compare those responses.

“By looking at the neurological response that children have to nouns and verbs, we can see if the brain processes the two types of words with the same speed, with the same part of the brain and with the same level of consistency in both the children with and without language impairment,” said Ogiela.

Ogiela hopes the information collected from the study will be used to develop more focused therapy strategies for addressing grammar problems in children with language impairment.

“Children with language impairment tend to have difficulty expressing themselves and understanding complex language. But with focused therapy that targets the specific problem, they may be able to learn how to compensate for some of those difficulties,” said Ogiela.

Ogiela’s research focusing on children between the ages of 4 and 7 years is funded by a $30,560 grant from the North and Central Texas Clinical and Translational Science Initiative (NCTCTSI) Pilot Grant Award Program.

She has also been awarded a $10,000 New Century Scholars Research Grant from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation to conduct research with 8- to 10-year-olds with and without language impairment on other aspects of grammar.

Parents interested in enrolling their child in either study may contact Dr. Ogiela at [email protected] or 214-905-3164. The child must be right-handed, be between the ages of 4 and 10, and have either typical language or a language impairment.

Dr. Diane  Ogiela hopes  her study can help find ways to address grammar problems in children with language impairment.

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