Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Degree

Summer 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Psychological and Quantitative Foundations

First Advisor

Kristen Missall

Abstract

Humans are social animals and language serves the social function of communication among people. All cultures provide a way to communicate and this social aspect is a necessary component of language acquisition. Language, especially expressive communication, is one of the most important skills children develop during early childhood (Thompson, 2004). Communication skills are used to gather information, to grow cognitively, and to interact with others. Starting from a child’s first day of life, children are exposed to language. The development of language skills is an ongoing process and a significant accomplishment throughout a child’s life (Hoff, 2009).

Any delays in language development tend to persist from childhood (Aram &Nation, 1980; Conti-Ramsden, Betting, Simkin, &Knox, 2001), into adolescence (e.g., Aram, Ekelman, &Nation, 1984; Johnson et al., 1999; Stothard, Snowling, Bishop, Chipcase, &Kaplan, 1998) and through adulthood (e.g., Hall &Tomblin, 1978). Additional problems may develop as a result of delayed language skills, such as: difficulties with early literacy (Nation &Snowling, 2000), school achievement (Harlaar, Hayiou-Thomas, Dale, &Plomin, 2008; Snowling, Adams, Bishop, &Stothard, 2001), behavioral skills (Spackman, Fujiki, &Brinton, 2006), and establishing relationships with friends and family (Conti-Ramsden, Durkin, Simkin, &Knox, 2009; Durkin &Conti-Ramsden, 2007). Children with language delays may also be at-risk for being victims of bullying (St Clair, Pickles, Durkin, &Conti-Ramsden, 2011).

Early language experiences can improve or inhibit a child’s potential to develop a foundation for language skills. Because parents have primary roles in a child’s early environment, language intervention involving parents could be paramount. Few play-based parent-involved interventions for typically-developing children have targeted toddlers’ language production. Language interventions are typically implemented when problems have already arisen for young children.

The current study evaluated the use of a play-based, parent-involved intervention, Child’s Game, on the language gains of typically-developing toddlers. Intervention effects of the Child’s Game have focused on child compliance and the parent-child relationship, not language production. The participants in this study included mothers and toddlers from low-income backgrounds. Other research has shown that gaps between children from different income backgrounds emerge around 18 months of age, are established by age 3, and continue into early elementary school (Hart &Risley, 1995; Walker, Greenwood, Hart, &Carta, 1994). Early interventions are needed to help close gaps and give equal opportunity to children regardless of their backgrounds. Home-based interventions may be able to create the most impact for children before they reach school age.

The primary goal of the current study was to investigate the impact of an intervention on mothers’ language production on their toddlers’ language development. The study was carried out with a pretest, intervention phase, and then a posttest. Toddlers’ and mothers’ language production were assessed during playtime in the pretest and posttest. One hundred and fifty-five mother-child dyads were randomized to an intervention group or play-as-usual group. In the play-as-usual condition, mothers were asked to play with their child just as they would normally. The mothers in the intervention group were taught to engage in “Child’s Game” (Forehand &McMahon, 1981; McMahon &Forehand, 2003) with her child. Child’s Game taught mothers to use specific play and communication techniques in interacting with their child. This intervention was created to decrease problem behaviors and increase compliance in toddlers and preschoolers. However, it was hypothesized that the mothers’ language production would increase through the Child’s Game intervention; and therefore, their children’s language production would also increase. A subset of the children from both groups with the highest and lowest language production scores from the pre-test were further evaluated through transcription analyses for a more detailed examination of language skills.

Findings from this study indicated that all of the children, regardless of group assignment, increased language production from pretest to posttest. Interestingly, the mothers, regardless of group, showed decreased language production from pretest to posttest. Overall, the play-based parent-involved intervention did not enhance toddler’s language production and skills. However, children with lower language production skills, regardless of group assignment, displayed more improvement in the areas of total utterances, number of different words, total number of words, type-token ratio, and percentage of intelligibility. Additionally, children with higher language production skills demonstrated more improvement in mean length of utterances.

Public Abstract

Humans are social animals and language serves the social function of communication among people. Language, especially expressive communication, is one of the most important skills children develop during early childhood. Communication skills are used to gather information, to grow cognitively, and to interact with others. Early language trajectories differ for children in low-socioeconomic (SES) homes relative to those from higher SES families. One important environmental factor that contributes to individual differences in early language development is the amount of language that parents directed toward their children.

This study investigated an intervention impact on toddlers’ language development. All the participants (N = 155) were from low-SES backgrounds, and all of the toddlers were developing typically. Each mother-child dyad was randomized to either a play-as-usual group or an intervention group. In the play-as-usual condition, mothers were asked to engage in typical play with their children (they were not provided specific instructions). The mothers in the intervention group were taught to use the Child’s Game intervention, which includes specific play and communication techniques when interacting with their children.

Features of toddlers’ and mothers’ language (e.g., total production) were measured during play time. At baseline a subset of toddlers with the lowest and highest levels of language production were identified. This subset was then further analyzed through transcription to assess communication growth (e.g., total utterances, mean length of utterances, number of different words, total words, type-token ratio, and percentage of intelligible utterances) with even more sensitivity. The results of this study indicated that the play intervention did not enhance the toddler’s language production and skills more than the toddlers in the play-as-usual condition. However, children with lower initial language production scores exhibited more improvement in many areas of communication growth, except for one area, length of utterances, where children with higher language scores exhibited more improvement.

Keywords

publicabstract

Pages

xi, 135 pages

Bibliography

Includes bibliographical references (pages 103-115).

Copyright

Copyright 2015 Jessica O'Bleness

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