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Helping children thrive by combatting language impairments

Helping children thrive by combatting language impairments

Sterling display

Professor Audra Sterling’s research centers on assessing and treating language development in children with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. Here, a girl with Down syndrome interacts with her teacher in a classroom setting. 

Language is a fundamental aspect of human communication, and impairments result in lifelong struggles.

Imagine having trouble communicating basic wants and needs and understanding the fast pace of the world around you. It’s a frustrating and scary scenario.

For children with neurodevelopmental disorders – including Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder – language impairments are a part of life.

These struggles begin early in development and continue throughout life. Unfortunately, language impairments are associated with difficulties in school, difficulties with relationships and eventually problems with employment.

My work seeks to understand the strengths and weaknesses within language for children with neurodevelopmental disorders, with the hope of alleviating some of these later consequences.

Too many times, we focus on weaknesses in research and subsequently clinical practice.

Research and life, however, tell us that playing on our strengths is the optimal way to target growth.

My goal is to understand how to assess and treat language in children, by providing speech-language pathologists and educators information to help children learn and thrive in their environment.

Recently we have begun an exciting project to uncover how language impairments are related to underlying brain regions and connections.

This will help us understand how each disorder develops in the brain.

We can then use that information to help us better understand language performance. This work will help us identify how each disorder impacts development, and how we can best work with children to improve communication.

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