ETSU receives NIH funding for study of language impairment in children

JOHNSON CITY – With good examples and training, most kids develop basic grammar skills by the time they reach preschool age.  But some fall behind.

“This particular group of children has delays specifically in grammar and vocabulary development but do not have an underlying condition, such as autism or hearing loss, to which it can be attributed,” said Dr. Kerry Proctor-Williams, an assistant professor of communicative disorders in the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences at East Tennessee State University.

“It’s more than just using poor grammar,” she added.  “It’s an impairment of language learning – something many believe is related to processing.  And, if the problem is not treated when children are young, it often leads to further language delays and places the child at risk for reading and other academic problems.”

Proctor-Williams has received a three-year $204,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) to further explore one treatment approach, called recasting, which has shown effectiveness in previous studies.  Based on what parents naturally do, in recasting, when a child says something that is grammatically incorrect, the parent will immediately repeat what the child says but with a correction. For example, a child says “He running,” and the parent replies “He is running.”

“How often recasts should be provided and over what duration of time in order to speed up the learning of grammar by children with delays are the two main questions we will be pursuing with this grant,” she said.

Proctor-Williams is a speech-language pathologist with the ETSU Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic located in Lamb Hall.