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Lexical Retrival Difficulties in Children

Lexical Retrival Difficulties in Children: A new approach combining modelling of impairment and intervention to help wordfinding

A research project funded by the ESRC

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Administrative Details
Investigator: Wendy Best

Jackie Masterson (Institute of Edcuation)

Michael Thomas (Birkbeck College)

Project Website


This study investigates lexical retrieval, or word-finding in children. The focus is on difficulties with finding words.

We all experience difficulties in retrieving names occasionally. Children with difficulties learning language (around 5-10% of the population) can experience considerable and repeated difficulty in retrieving words which are in their vocabulary. This occurs in around a quarter of children with specific language learning difficulties and can influence their relationships, self-concept and education. The study sets out to advance our understanding of word-finding difficulties (WFD) and ways they can be ameliorated.

The project has three strands. The first involves collecting data from 100 children with typically developing language and 30 children with WFD. We will examine the accuracy and speed of naming and related skills, such as processing of meaning and sounds. Findings from these tasks have been related to WFD in other studies. We will help clarify the nature of the difficulty by comparing the performance of the children with WFD with those with typically developing language at different stages.

The second strand entails computer modelling of the processes involved in word retrieval - moving from meaning (semantics) to sound (phonology). The model can be impaired and enhanced in various ways. For example, the modeller can limit or increase the processing resources available to link meaning and sound representations or can strengthen meaning or sound representations, enabling identification of potential pathways to deficit within a developmental framework. The modelling will incorporate typical lexical retrieval and WFD. The model can then be used to predict optimal frameworks of intervention for different kinds of underlying deficit.

The final strand of the study is an experimentally controlled intervention in which children with WFD will receive one form of therapy that appears more appropriate to the focus of their difficulty, and one less appropriate. The interventions focus on word meaning, word sounds or the link between these. The results, both on tests of word-finding and on wider outcomes measures (e.g., teachers' views; word-finding in discourse) will be used to inform the practice of speech and language therapists and specialist teachers working with children with language learning difficulties.

The researchers carrying out the study come from different backgrounds: speech and language therapy, psychology and modelling. By bringing together knowledge and skills from different approaches we aim to inform understanding of typical language development and of what happens when children have difficulties retrieving words. The project will impact on theoretical models of the development of language production and our understanding of the ways in which this can be disrupted. The modelling of intervention effects will be a very new endeavour. Importantly the study will provide practitioners working with children with language difficulties with more evidence on appropriate intervention for different children and with better ways of comparing children's language profiles with those of children whose language is developing more typically.


Page last modified on 16 mar 11 12:59 by Carolyne S Megan