A common gripe for a long time with research of language disorders is that much of it has often been irrelevant to the actual teaching of language.  And by often, I mean nearly always.  A lot of the research seems geared toward one isolated characteristic of one subset of one small segment of people, and only to that particular population.  The similarity of the following fake titles to actual titles may help demonstrate my point…

– “Toward Understanding Morphologic Tendencies in Left Handed Nicaraguan Preschoolers.”    or

– “Past Tense Comprehension in Bilingual Adopted Children; A Conceptual Framework.”

It just has long seemed that these are the sorts of research titles that usually exist in the most commonly read sources of language research.  And that’s when these journals even decide to address language at all, which has long seemed to be much less common then research addressing say, hearing, or voice, or stuttering.  And this is too bad.  Because there are many, many language related questions out there that can be addressed scientifically that would actually be useful in teaching language.  So what might these “practical” studies look like?  Here are some ideas I’ve had.

Question:  Do twins often have one member with more language deficits than the other?

Implication:  This often seems to be the case.  Anecdotally, it seems as though one twin often speaks for the other, almost creating deficits in the less talkative twin.  If the research would support this hypothesis, then we could prepare for this with extra early intervention, and assistance for twin parents.

Question:  Can we create useful norms within classes of words?

Implication:  Let’s look at pronouns as an example.  I seems to be an earlier developing pronoun than hers, as just one example.  So, it seems useful to work on earlier developing pronouns in therapy before later ones.  There have been some attempts at creating these sorts of norms, such as in the work of Robert Owens, Marc Fey, and going way back, Roger Brown.  But these have largely rudimentary, and incomplete.  Norms have been developed for speech and phonology which are widely used by therapists.  In language this work is much sparser.

These are just a couple of questions I’ve come up with that could help steer language intervention more toward the realm of science and away from being more of form of art.  There are many other possibilities, such as “Can oral language homework be effective?”.  Or, “How many SLPs use research to guide language intervention, and how often?”  Or how about, “What does effective language therapy planning look like?”

Many times have I said in the course of supervising therapy, or actually doing therapy myself, have I said, “This would be a good research question.”  These questions just seem to pop up all the time, and the key is here that they pop up when we’re actually teaching.  With this being said, one more question comes to mind.  Can we eliminate the apparent disconnect between researchers in universities and therapists in the trenches?

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