Y professors study language impairment

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    Two BYU professors have been tracking the growth of several young children with a particular learning defect know as Specific Language Impairment.

    Bonnie Brinton and her husband, Martin Fujiki, are co-authors of the study on SLI that is found in the current issue of “Topics in Language Disorders.”

    “The sad thing is that most of the parents have no idea their babies have the disorder until the children are old enough to go to preschool,” said Brinton, dean of graduate studies. “We have found that some societal conventions are inadvertently turning children’s speech problems into social and educational struggles.”

    “I am like a broken toy. I just get passed from person to another. Nobody likes to play with a broken toy.” — anonymous 11-year-old sufferer of SLI.

    Children with SLI have problems processing language that inhibit how they talk and what they understand. Generally, the first sign of the disorder is that children will not speak as proficiently and as early as their peers. The impairment is believed to be a neurological disorder, but no one is exactly sure what causes it, according to the study.

    “You wouldn’t know by looking at the children that they have any problems,” Fujiki said. “Children with SLI have a hard time using language to interact socially.”

    Brinton and Fujiki’s study describes peer evaluations, teacher evaluations, and self-evaluations of six children with SLI under the age of twelve.

    “As a mother I have witnessed many miracles in the growth of my son,” said Debra Ward of Springville, whose son suffers from SLI. “He is able to attend middle school and he receives excellent help from his teachers.”

    Many of the children themselves feel inferior to their classmates.

    “I am like a broken toy,” said an 11-year-old boy who struggles with SLI. “I just get passed from person to another. Nobody likes to play with a broken toy.”

    “Children with SLI often do well with nonverbal tasks, like construction, but once they have to use language they struggle,” said Brinton. “This is ironic, because when they go to school, they are constantly bombarded with tasks that demand the very skill they do not have.”

    SLI affected 7 percent of all live births in Utah last year — approximately 3,000 children. It crosses racial, cultural and socioeconomic boundaries, leaving children with academic wounds and social problems, according to the study.

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