British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 28 Issue 1 (March 2010), Pages 1-216

Gesture production and comprehension in children with specific language impairment (pages 51-69)

Children with specific language impairment (SLI) have difficulties with spoken language. However, some recent research suggests that these impairments reflect underlying cognitive limitations. Studying gesture may inform us clinically and theoretically about the nature of the association between language and cognition. A total of 20 children with SLI and 19 typically developing (TD) peers were assessed on a novel measure of gesture production. Children were also assessed for sentence comprehension errors in a speech‐gesture integration task. Children with SLI performed equally to peers on gesture production but performed less well when comprehending integrated speech and gesture. Error patterns revealed a significant group interaction: children with SLI made more gesture‐based errors, whilst TD children made semantically based ones. Children with SLI accessed and produced lexically encoded gestures despite having impaired spoken vocabulary and this group also showed stronger associations between gesture and language than TD children. When SLI comprehension breaks down, gesture may be relied on over speech, whilst TD children have a preference for spoken cues. The findings suggest that for children with SLI, gesture scaffolds are still more related to language development than for TD peers who have out‐grown earlier reliance on gestures. Future clinical implications may include standardized assessment of symbolic gesture and classroom based gesture support for clinical groups.

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