DECEMBER DECEMBER OSCCI NEWSLETTER Oxford Study of Children s by galenbarbour


									DECEMBER 2002 DECEMBER 2005

Oxford Study of Children’s Communication Impairments, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, OX1 3UD

The latest addition to OSCCI!
OSCCI is now the proud owner of a van. Many of the families we study live far away from Oxford and it can be difficult for them to travel to our laboratory. We also see children in schools, where it can be hard to find a quiet space to work. Our new ‘mobile testing unit’ has proved extremely useful in overcoming these problems. Our intrepid research assistant, Sarah Bird, found a suitable van, working out a design specification and getting it converted. The van is used both for simple pencil-and-paper tests with children and their parents, and for doing more technical recordings of brain electrical activity. One of our graduate students, Piers Dawes, has already used the van in his studies of auditory function in children in local schools. In October, Johanna Barry and Liz Line took it to Wales and Derbyshire on its first long-range mission. We’ve had very positive reports from those people who have taken part in our van-based studies.
Thank you for helping us with our research Kayleigh, we hope you enjoyed our mobile testing unit!

In 2006, Margriet Groen, Ifat Yasin, Piers Dawes and Andrew Whitehouse plan to go on the road, so look out for our vehicle trundling in your direction!

Thank you to everyone – children, parents, school staff and speech and language therapists who have given us continued help and support with all our research projects. Without you it would not be possible.

Thank you from all of us!
A few statistics….
During the past year, between us and our participants, we have: • Travelled over 12,000 miles • Seen nearly 800 children and adults • Had over 30 papers published • Presented numerous talks, seminars and posters all over the world. Dorothy Bishop was also awarded the Experimental Psychology Society Mid-Career Award in Montreal in July this year.
OSCCI , taking time out from a hectic testing schedule, on our annual picnic this summer.

Looking at brain responses to sounds
Several OSCCI projects have been looking at how the brain responds to sounds. We have just completed collecting data for a major study designed to see whether people with language difficulties find it harder to remember changes in sounds. Nearly 300 families volunteered to take part in the study. We subsequently tested 190 children from schools across England. We then invited 75 families to Oxford to take part in the second part of the study. In this part of the study, we measured the responses of their brains to a range of different sounds. Mervyn Hardiman and Johanna Barry will spend the next few months analysing the results, and we hope to have some new findings to report this time next year. Some of our graduate students have conducted similar studies with other clinical groups. Helen Jamison has been seeing how underlying brain structure affects the brain responses we measure. Not all brains are the same. Helen used brain imaging to study brain structure and found that people with a ‘standard’ brain configuration have a different pattern of neural responses to tones than people with more unusual brain structure. It is still early days, but this work raises exciting possibilities for understanding how differences in brain structure may affect our auditory abilities. For a full list of all our papers, articles and presentations please see our website at:

In 2006, in collaboration with Dr Kate Watkins, we will extend our brain-scanning studies to include
members of families with a language-impaired child. Some of you who took part in our big study on auditory processing will be invited to take part.

We hope you will be interested in being involved in this next phase of our research!
Lorna Halliday has now completed her thesis which included studies of children with mildmoderate hearing loss, and others with dyslexia. Dyslexia is often blamed on auditory problems, but Lorna’s results showed that, although some children had immature patterns of brain response, dyslexia did not seem to be caused by basic problems in distinguishing sounds. Margriet Groen has seen 35 children with Down syndrome and is currently analysing their auditory responses to tones and speech sounds. First results suggest that children with Down syndrome process tones in a similar way compared to typically developing children, but process speech sounds quite differently. In the New Year a follow-up study will take place and we hope that some of the children who participated in Margriet’s first study will be happy to take part again. Children who volunteered for the first study, but have not been seen yet will also be contacted.

Some Useful Links Afasic: Apraxia Kids: Talking Point:

You will be hearing from us!

National Autistic Society: Deafness Research UK: British Dyslexia Association: National Alliance for Autism Research:
Other studies on adults without language difficulties have been useful in teaching us more about how the brain processes sounds. Ifat Yasin and Dorothy Bishop have been comparing how the two sides of the brain deal with language. We know that the left side of the brain is more important for language in most people, but we usually need to do quite complicated tests to demonstrate this. In our study, we play two different sounds at the same time, one in each ear. We find that the sound going directly to the left side of the brain gives a bigger response than that going to the right side, but only if it is a meaningful word. We hope that this method might be useful in studying how the two sides of the brain work in people with language difficulties.

Late-talking Toddlers
Our new Babylab is now up and running, and David McDonald and Liz Line have started seeing toddlers for a study of late talkers. It is not uncommon for children of around 20 months to be saying only a few (less than 10) words. Many of these children catch up over the next year. At the moment, it’s difficult to predict which late-talking children of 20 months of age might still be having difficulties when they are a bit older, and might benefit from extra help early on. In our study, we are seeing 20-month-old ‘late talkers’ as well as children who are saying quite a lot of words. We assess children’s language development, physical development, and look at how they use gestures to communicate. These sessions involve enjoyable games with toys, or sitting on mum or dad’s lap in front of a display showing pictures of objects and animals for a few minutes. We also talk to parents about what the children usually do and say at home, and what their daily routine is like. We plan to see all the children again when they are nearly 4 years old to see how they are doing. The visits to our Babylab are usually fun for the children, and interesting for parents. Many parents tell us they didn’t realise just how much their child was able to do! If you have a child of 18 months or younger and would be interested in taking part in this study, please get in touch with us!!

Genes and Language Impairments
It is becoming clear that we are not going to find ‘the gene’ that causes language impairment. Language difficulties do often run in families, but it looks as though the causes are complicated. In most cases, there may be lots of small things that add together to increase the child’s risk of language problems. Johanna Barry has just finished analysing results from the parents and children who have taken part in our big auditory study. Some parents tell us that they had similar problems to their language-impaired children when they were younger. Others aren’t aware of any such difficulties, but we have found they may have mild difficulties in tests that involve listening to and remembering different types of sounds. This shows that a very slight difficulty that has no obvious effect on a parent can have a more serious impact in a child – probably because it happens to occur in the child together with other risk factors. In the coming months we aim to see more parents, both of typically developing children and children with SLI, and we hope that some of you will be able to take part in this next phase. Our results so far fit in with findings obtained with twins whom we studied at 6 years of age. We found that if one twin did poorly on a language test, the other twin was more likely to also do poorly if the twins were identical. This points to a role of genes in causing a risk of language impairment. However, the pattern of results suggested different genes were associated with different types of language difficulty. But, most strikingly, the children who had serious language difficulties typically had more than one type of underlying problem. We have suggested that there might be mild risk factors for language difficulties that do not have much effect if just one is present. However, if the child has several risk factors, then there is a much worse effect on language development. David McDonald and Sarah Bird have just completed the latest round of visits to see many of the same twins now they are 9-10 years old. Over the next year we will be examining their results to find out more about how language difficulties and reading difficulties are related to each other. This work is done in collaboration with Professor Robert Plomin, whose Twins Early Development Study is looking at causes of language and literacy problems in a much larger sample of children.

Auditory processing disorder
Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a diagnosis that is sometimes made by audiologists. Children with this condition seem to have difficulty in taking in what is said, especially in noisy environments, but prove to have normal hearing when given a regular hearing test. The diagnosis of APD in the UK is controversial, with some people arguing it is just another label of SLI, dyslexia or attentional problems. ESRC/MRC postdoctoral fellow, Ifat Yasin, and graduate student Piers Dawes (funded by Deafness Research UK) are developing new tests to help distinguish true auditory processing problems from other types of difficulties. Piers has been trying out some tests on typically developing children of different ages, to see what kinds of task give the best results. They plan to see children who have been diagnosed with APD in the New Year so keep an eye out for the “mobile testing unit”!

Comparing children with autism and those with language impairments
It is still uncertain whether autism is completely distinct from specific language impairment (SLI), or whether children with autism have the same kinds of problems as those with SLI, together with other difficulties. Graduate student Robert Accordino has now completed his Master’s work, in which he looked at children’s responses to music. He was following up the idea that musical ability might be a distinctive area of skill in children with autism. However, although he saw a few children who had remarkable musical talent, on the whole, children with autism did not show unusual skills. Our studies on autism are being taken forward by Andrew Whitehouse, who joined us as post-doctoral fellow from Western Australia in October, funded by the National Alliance for Autism Research. Andrew is a qualified speech and language therapist, who did his doctoral research on use of ‘inner speech’ (thinking with words in your head) in children with autism. In a new study he will measure brain responses of children with autistic spectrum disorders and/or high-level language problems to the same kinds of sounds that we have used in our studies of SLI and dyslexia. This will help us work out whether these different types of communication problems have similar underlying causes. If you have a child aged from 7 to 15 years who has an autism spectrum disorder or related condition, and who might be willing to take part in this study, please do get in touch for further information or ask to see our new video on the research.

How children learn to understand what they read
Most research on children’s reading development focuses on how children learn relationships between letters and sounds. However, there is more to being a skilled reader than this. Graduate student Jessie Ricketts did a study to see how children learn new vocabulary from reading. The children read stories with madeup words in them and then played games to see whether they had learnt anything about the made-up words. E.g. …In the music lesson Zet beats the meeld…

“Tell me what the word means by pointing to a picture” 8–9 year old children from mainstream schools were quite variable on this task. Some of them made good use of the surrounding words to work out a meaning. Other children had more difficulty, even though they could read words aloud quite well. Jessie plans to build on this work in the next year, to find out more about how children become competent at understanding what they read.

Hellos and Goodbyes
In addition to our van, Andrew Whitehouse, Post-doctoral Research Fellow from University of Western Australia and Research Assistant Liz Line from University of Bristol have joined the team.

We also said goodbye and best wishes to several OSCCI members. Glynis Laws is moving to run a project grant at Bristol University; Sarah Bird is now training as a clinical psychologist at Sheffield University; Robert Accordino is studying at Mt Sinai Medical School, USA and Lorna Halliday is working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Hearing Research in Nottingham. Faith Ayre, our Research Co-ordinator, is the initial point of contact and the one on the end of the telephone. Visit our website - NB new web address It’s full of useful information and details on our research as well as our findings to date. If you would like any further information please email or phone us on 01865 271386

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