The members of the I+DEL research group Eva Aguilar Mediavilla, Lucía Buil Legaz and Víctor Sánchez Azanza publish an article in the academic journal Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics on the speech profile of 6 years old children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). Their study analysed the phonology, at both the productive and perceptive level, of bilingual Spanish-Cataln children with DLD and without DLD. Their objective was to clarify the nature of the speech difficulties these children experiment, which underlie DLD, so that early detection of this disorder is facilitated.
Regarding perception of speech, a task designed to evaluate the ability to discriminate specific phonemes was used. In this task the examiner pronounced two words that differed from one another in only one phoneme (e.g., puente/fuente, bridge/fountain in Spanish). Children had to point a picture that represented the word that the examiner had said. The results of this task show that children with DLD have more difficulties in distinguishing phonemes.
To analyse phonological production children were shown images depicting objects that they had to name. The researchers looked into children’s pronunciation at the level of the word’s prosodic structure, its syllabic structure and the pronunciation of each phoneme that constituted each word. The results showed that children with DLD, in comparison with children with typical language development, had more difficulties in pronouncing correctly the more complex word and syllabic structures, and they also had difficulties with the pronunciation of most phonetic categories. Children with DLD also exhibited a greater amount of phonological simplification processes than their peers at all levels: word’s level (syllabic omissions and assimilations), syllabic’s level (omissions and reductions) and segmental level (phoneme substitutions). Generally, while all the children composing the control group showed a speech (phonological profile) in accordance to their age, 71% of children in the DLD group exhibited a speech delay.
The results of this study have a significative implication in the clinical field. Even though DLD is moderately common, affecting two in every thirty children, it is still difficult to detect and, in consequence, a big amount of cases go unnoticed, specially regarding bilingual children. The authors of this article focused on speech perception and production as a diagnostic tool because, as opposite to the morphosyntactic difficulties that children with DLD encounter, the phonological difficulties are more easy to detect. Despite the results showing that speech problems are rather common in children with DLD, not all of them had speech delay. Thus, even though speech difficulties are good indicators of DLD, not every child presents them and in these cases there is a bigger risk that the disorder goes unnoticed. The profile of difficulties described in this article could help in the construction of diagnostic tools that would allow the detection of DLD at early ages, therefore enhancing the benefits of intervention.
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