A New Study Unlocks Connections within the Brain to Early Language Development: Research Holds Potential to Improve Early Intervention
January 23rd, 2013 by Paul Nyhan
Scientists discovered that two parts of the brain not usually associated with language development can predict a child’s linguistic skills by her or his first birthday.
The study released by the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) found that children with greater concentration of white and gray matter in the hippocampus and cerebellum by the time they were a year old showed higher language ability.
Why is this important for early learning educators and parents? The breakthrough eventually could help identify developmental delays early in a child’s life. Research has repeatedly shown that early identification helps parents begin intervention and support earlier, which often increases the chances for progress. But, this is the first time scientists have associated these regions of the brain with future language development in infancy and at 12 months of age, and more research is needed before it can be applied to real-life intervention and treatment.
“The brain uses many general skills to learn language,” Patricia Kuhl, co-director of I-LABS said in a research summary. “Knowing which brain regions are linked to this early learning could help identify children with developmental disabilities and provide them with early interventions that will steer them back toward a typical developmental path.”
It is also another study that advances scientists’ understanding of how development in early childhood depends on both their biology and their experiences. The study tells scientists that the beginning steps of learning are detectable far earlier than they had thought and are associated with parts of the brain not usually linked with language. One of the reasons the study unlocked new connections is that it was among the first to examine the entire brain when studying language development.
“Infancy may be the most important phase of postnatal brain development in humans,” said Dilara Deniz Can, the study’s lead author and a UW postdoctoral researcher. “Our results showing brain structures linked to later language ability in typically developing infants is a first step toward examining links to brain and behavior in young children with linguistic, psychological and social delays.”
The study is in the January issue of Brain and Language.