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09-04-2012 | Physical rehabilitation | Article

Language impairment in adolescents related to social deprivation


Free abstract

MedWire News: Researchers have found that adolescents from areas of low socioeconomic status have impairments in language abilities compared with those from more affluent areas.

It is well-known that children from poor socioeconomic areas are at an increased risk for delayed language development. However, this research has focused mainly on young children, with little investigation into language development in adolescence.

Sarah Spencer (University of Sheffield, UK) and colleagues say the findings "address this research gap and contributes further evidence that socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with lower scores on standardized language assessments."

Using six standardized language assessments, the researchers measured expressive and receptive language skills across vocabulary, syntax, and narrative in two groups of adolescents (aged 13-14 years) attending school in an area of socioeconomic disadvantage (n=103) or relative socioeconomic advantage (n=48) in the UK.

Language skills were assessed using the Test for Reception of Grammar (TROG), the long form of the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS), the Expression, Reception, Recall of Narrative Instrument (ERRNI), the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF-3), and the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence Vocabulary (WASI Vocab) subtest.

In addition, nonverbal abilities were assessed using the WASI Block Design subtest, and verbal reasoning was assessed using the Cognitive Abilities Test: 3 Verbal (CAT V) subtest.

Adolescents with a socioeconomic disadvantage showed WASI Vocab and BPVS scores that were 1 standard deviation (SD) below the expected normative mean, with scores on all remaining language measures also below the normative mean, but within the average range. Nonverbal abilities were not significantly different from the normative mean.

When the researchers compared the groups, adolescents with a socioeconomic advantage scored significantly better on measures of vocabulary (WASI Vocab, BPVS, and CAT verbal) and understanding of paragraphs (CELF-3).

Prevalence rates of undetected language difficulties as measured on the TROG, BPVS, ERRNI, CELF-3, and WASI Vocab were significantly higher among adolescents with a low socioeconomic background compared with those from a relatively advantageous background, at 9-84% versus 2-40%.

These differences were significant for -1.00 and -1.25 SD on both one or more and two or more language measures, and for one or more language measures for -1.50 and 2.00 SD. Use of more stringent criteria reduced the differences between the two cohorts.

Using criteria of -1.00, -1.25, -1.50, and -2.00 SD with one or more language measures, the researchers found that this would translate to 83.5%, 76.7%, 60.2%, and 31.1% of adolescents from low socioeconomic background having undetected language difficulties, respectively. These values were significantly different from corresponding percentages for adolescents from advantageous backgrounds, at 39.6%, 29.2%, 18.8%, and 8.3%.

"Stringent criteria may be useful for identifying children at most need of specialist support, but may also risk missing a proportion of children with significant language difficulties," say the authors.

Writing in the International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, the team says the findings "provide evidence that here is a need for targeted, specialist support for identified secondary-aged pupils."

By Ingrid Grasmo

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