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Getting to the Point

June 15, 2012

As we all know, language and communication go far beyond what we can create with our mouths. Pointing, for example, is one of the early milestones children go through on their journey to learning how to talk. As it turns out, the development of pointing can also provide valuable information about later language development and language delays, especially in babies born prematurely.

Researchers at Alberta Children’s Hospital are hoping to explore this issue further, with their cutting edge study about how early gestures might be able to predict the likelihood of developing a language delay later on. As Dr. Barbara Ramage, coordinator of the C.H Riddell Family Movement Assessment Center describes in a video produced by AHS on the topic, the research is unique in that it brings together movement and communication development, a pairing not typically explored in the literature.

The researchers are not only observing gestures produced by the child participants, but are quantitatively measuring them by attaching motion detectors to the children that feed data to a computer system, which can later be precisely analyzed. Dr. Shirley Leew, Director of AHS Research Excellence Support Team, another one of the key investigators in the study, describes how this method of data collection allows for the timing, combinations, and direction of gaze, all of which are important factors that play into the development of language and communication.

If my child language development classes taught me one thing, it was that early intervention is a key part of helping kids catch up to their peers and go on to become good communicators and language users. The results of this study will be of huge importance to the field, as screening and assessment tools can be developed to flag differences in early gesturing that might lead to language delays!

As the study is still in progress, the results aren’t yet known, but the prospective information that we will attain is an exciting future to look forward to! The researchers are still looking for pre-term babies born between 28 and 32 months to be involved in the study. If you, or someone you know might be interesting in participating, Dr. Ramage can be contacted at 403-955-2617.

What do you think the results might show? Do you think we will be able to predict future language delays by looking at gestures in babies who were born prematurely? What might this mean for full term babies as well? I guess we will have to wait and see what the research “points” to!

-Adele Courchesne

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