This large, long study found that children had worse academic outcomes after being treated with Ritalin, a common medication used in the treatment of ADHD. A 1997 policy reform in Quebec expanded coverage and use of Ritalin, providing ideal conditions to study its use relative to the rest of Canada. Generally, there were little overall improvements in short term outcomes, and worsened long term outcomes, highlighted by increased incidents of repeating grades, lower standardized math scores, and more school dropouts.
One especially interesting consequence of increased ritalin use was a large reported increase in unhappiness, especially among girls. The study authors hypothesized that increased Ritalin use, while decreasing adverse behaviors, also decreased attention these students received from teachers. They surmised that use of these medications may be a substitute for more beneficial learning interventions.
A study summary from The Atlantic can be found here: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/06/study-ritalin-doesnt-help-academics/276894/
A link to the full study can be found here: http://www.nber.org/papers/w19105.pdf
Study Probes Connection Between Texting and Language Impairment - This study, from these people, at the University of Manchester, finds that teens with language impairment (or SLI, to be specific), don’t use texting technology as much as their typically developing peers. The study authors surmised that this relative lack of texting is caused more by societal factors, such as shyness, and lack of friendship networks, rather than lack of ability.
Doctors and Sreenings – Good; Doctors and Referrals – Not so Good – A report spearheaded by John Hopkins Children’s Center shows that while pediatricians may be doing a good job of screening kids, referrals for further assessment often go unheeded. The study recommended that instead of placing referrals in the hands of parents, these referrals should be directly placed to specialists. My information comes from this this link from Science Daily.
Study Challenges Current Thinking on Language Evolution – Again from Science Daily: According to a statistical analysis of more than 2,000 of the world’s languages, they may evolve more like biological organisms, and less from more random forces, as previously thought. The bullet synopsis is that the more people speak a language, the simpler the language becomes. The researchers called this the “Linguistic Niche Hypothesis.” One possible explanation for this is that simplicity holds an evolutionary advantage over complexity, particularly when children learn languages. It should be noted that simpler languages are not necessarily inferior languages. They just do not have aspects which aren’t as necessary, such as elaborate gender marking, for example. Pschologists from the Universities of Pennsylvania and Memphis conducted this analysis. More info can be found at this Penn site.
Children Make up Their Own Rules To Help Them Learn Language – This study used computer analysis to theorize that early language development follows formulas that children generate on their own, rather than specific rules governing such things as nouns and verbs, as linguists have traditionally thought. Or as I’ve simply put it, in language development, Form Follows Function. Leading this work was Colin Bannard, at the University of Texas, and Elena Lieven and Michael Tomasello, two colleagues working at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The more in-depth article can be found at the University of Texas site.
Here’s some recent language learning news that I’ve found interesting:
Talking helps language development more than reading alone – Although the conclusion of this UCLA study seems almost blatantly obvious, there is a significant implication, which is that the importance of talking to children has been obscured by the recent emphasis on reading with children. The study found that back-and-forth conversation was strongly associated with future improvements in the child’s language score. Conversely, adult monologueing, such as monologic reading, was more weakly associated with language development. TV viewing had no effect on language development, positive or negative. The study’s lead author, Dr. Frederick J. Zimmerman noted, “What’s new here is the finding that the effect of adult-child conversations was roughly six times as potent at fostering good language development as adult speech input alone.”
Inattentive behaviors in young children with autism predict lower later language development – The authors of this study, from the University of British Columbia, looked at autism from a different perspective than most previous research. Rather than focusing on social and linguistic aspects of autism, the authors looked at five types of inappropriate behaviors and how these behaviors predicted later language development. The study looked at some behaviors that parents and teachers frequently focus on, such as acting out, resistance to change, and socially unresponsive behavior, but the one that best predicted later language difficulties was inattentiveness. This is strikingly significant for autism intervention. Why is inattentiveness such a large problem? Creating a desire to change is critical with these children. Often, current intervention practices target making autistic children communicate (such as in ABA therapy), instead of trying to convince these kids to want to communicate.
Gene found to be associated with language, speech, and reading disorders – The gene in question is found on Chromosome 6. The significance is that variability in the gene was associated with both language and reading disorders, but not other disorders, such as autism or hearing impairment. Mabel Rice, from the University of Kansas, Shelley Smith, from the University of Nebraska, and Javier Gayán of Neocodex, Seville, Spain led a team of researchers that is part of a 20 year research program that is being funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one of the National Institutes of Health.
This link courtesy of USA Today – 1 in 7 adults in America can’t read material more challenging than a children’s picture book. While some states, such as Mississippi actually made gains since the last similar federal study from 1992, many larger states saw increases in illiteracy. Undiagnosed learning disabilities, immigration, and high school dropout rates are listed as the main culprits.
Time Magazine reviews two related books here. One book, by Hanna Holmes, details the many ways that humans are really just animals with fancier language skills. While Holmes attempts to describe humans using language normally reserved for animals, Temple Grandin does just the opposite. Grandin, a skilled author noted for her autistic background, describes animals using language normally reserved for humans. Both books seem interesting; the article itself is a good read.
The New York Times, and New York Times Magazine have hosted a couple of pieces by Steven Pinker in the last few weeks – one on how Chief Justice Roberts’ gaffe in administering the oath of office occurred precisely because Roberts is such a stickler for proper grammar. His mistake of accidentally attempting to correct the Constitution illustrates the potential dangers of nitpicking language. In the other, Pinker entertainingly digresses concerning the likely influence of genetics over our personalities. Usually these influences are more probabilistic rather than deterministic.
Rice psychologist identifies area of brain key to choosing words in this link.
Specifically, The researchers found that while two parts of the brain, the LIFG and the left temporal cortex, respond to increased conflict among words competing for selection during speech, only the LIFG is necessary to resolve the competition for successful word production. The LIFG includes Broca’s area, named after the 19th-century French scientist Paul Pierre Broca. It is responsible for aspects of speech production, language processing and language comprehension.
Study Looks at if Using Signs May Slow Language Learning
An international team led by Jana Iverson of the University of Pittsburgh, compared language learning between Italian children and American children, after first determining that Italian children do grow up using more gestures. The study found that American children consistently use more words, and combine words more often. The difference, however, was accounted for by the larger use of gestures in the Italian children.
The main implication seems to be this – gestures don’t slow language learning, and they don’t negatively impact one’s ability to communicate within a society in which everyone uses a lot of gestures. As someone who works with young children with language impairments, I’ve seen a lot of practicioners encouraging the use of signs in children that weren’t verbally communicating. This gnawed at me, but I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly until reading Cogntive Daily’s excellent summary of this study. Teaching signs rather than oral language does not necessarily inhibit a child’s ability to learn language, but it does inhibit a child’s ability to communicate to others that don’t use signs. This is not a problem in Italy where gesture use is the norm, but it does imply that in the U.S. where the norm is not to use signs, that for a child struggling to learn language, the use of gestures should only occur as an absolute last resort.
First magnetic field brain scanner opens for operation in Australia.
Cognitive scientists from Macquarie University will use a brain imaging system called MEG, or magnetoencephalography – the first brain imaging system specifically designed for children’s smaller head sizes – to discover how much of our language ability is learned from experience, and how much is part of our biological make-up. Professor Stephen Crain, Director of the Centre for Language Sciences, and Deputy Director of the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science (MACCS), said the child MEG system promises to lead to major advances in our understanding of children’s knowledge of language.
According to Crain, ”Until now, it’s been impossible to investigate young children’s knowledge of language, because young children can’t tell us about what they are hearing. Now, using the child MEG, we can witness precisely what’s going on in the brain of a child without requiring the child to communicate what they are experiencing.” Full Story Here