The Communication Corner: Specific Language Impairment and Motor Skills

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The Communication Corner: Specific Language Impairment and Motor Skills


How Specific Language Impairment Affects Motor Skills and Language Processing


Specific Language Impairment, or SLI, as it is often called, is a language deficit found in children that impairs their  expressive and in some cases, receptive language capabilities. Expressive language is the area of communication that encompasses the ability to share thoughts, emotions, and ideas with others. Receptive language pertains to the ability to understand what other’s are saying to you and process receiving input. The cause of SLI is unclear and can occur when there is no sign of a neurological, hearing, or gross and fine motor impairment. However, some researchers have noted that children diagnosed with SLI tend to be clumsy and have soft gross and fine motor abnormalities.Researchers have also found that some children exhibited limb and finger movement abnormalities and have demonstrated trouble buttoning clothing, threading beads and hand gestures. A total of 29 conducted studies of motor skills and children with SLI reported similar findings which provides substantial evidence that language impairment in not the only aspect affected by SLI.


In a study conducted by Andrea C., DiDonato Brumbach, and Lisa Goffman, eleven children with SLI were compared to 12 age matched peers between the ages of 4-6 years old. The study focused on Syntactic Construction which examined error patterns in the production and use of syntax that varied in difficulty. Syntax is a linguistic term that pertains to grammar and the rules that guide the structure of sentences. The findings concluded that the children with SLI demonstrated difficulty using proper grammatical inflection (extra letter(s) added to nouns, adjectives, and verbs to reflect plurals and various tenses). Using comparisons from previous studies conducted by other researchers, Andrea C., DiDonato Brumbach, and Lisa Goffman concluded that it is common for children with SLI to leave out particles and inflections during speech. The researchers also found that articulatory movement is affected in children with SLI. After a series of tests and comparisons, it was concluded that SLI has an impact on movement and control of the articulators.


The main focus of this study was to create a paradigm for speech motor control that required   the participating children  to generate sentences without relying on imitation and copying sentences. The researchers used a priming task that asked if children with SLI and their normally developing peers, demonstrated predicted deficits in the production of syntactic structures. The researchers concluded that children with SLI expressed difficulty sequencing complex sentences as compared to their normally developing peers as well as,  expressing weakness in fine motor skills and precise movement of the articulators. The researchers concluded their study by reporting that although these findings provide evidence, they are only preliminary findings that merit further investigation and research. If your child has been diagnosed with SLI or you feel that your child is struggling with their syntactic construction and fine motor skills, please see a certified, licensed Speech Language Pathologist for an evaluation.



Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research February 2014, Vol.57, 158-171. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2013/12-0215)

History: Accepted 14 May 2013 , Received 04 Jul 2012 , Revised 19 Dec 2012


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