Gesture helps children with early brain injury learn linguistic connections

Published on February 21, 2013 at 4:28 AM · No Comments

Children with brain lesions suffered before or around the time of birth are able to use gestures - an important aspect of the language learning process- to convey simple sentences, a Georgia State University researcher has found.

Şeyda -z-alışkan, assistant professor of psychology, and fellow researchers at the University of Chicago, looked at children who suffered lesions to one side of the brain to see whether they used gestures similar to typically developing children. She examined gestures such as pointing to a cookie while saying "eat" to convey the meaning "eat cookie," several months before expressing such sentences exclusively in speech.

"We do know that children with brain injuries show an amazing amount of plasticity (the ability to change) for language learning if they acquire lesions early in life," -z-alışkan said. "However, we did not know whether this plasticity was characterized by the same developmental trajectory shown for typically developing children, with gesture leading the way into speech. We looked at the onset of different sentence constructions in children with early brain injuries, and wanted to find out if we could see precursors of different sentence types in gesture.

"For children with brain injuries, we found that this pattern holds, similar to typically developing children," she said. "Children with unilateral brain injuries produce different kinds of simple sentences several months later than typically developing children. More important, the delays we observe in producing different sentences in speech are preceded by a similar delay in producing the same sentences in gesture-speech combinations."

Children with brain injuries also had a more difficult time in producing complex sentences across gesture and speech, such as conveying relationships between actions, for example saying "help me do it" while making a painting gesture.

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