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ETSU recruiting young children for language research study

Thursday, January 29, 2009JOHNSON CITY – Bad grammar? Not necessarily.

East Tennessee State University’s College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences is recruiting children who are three, four and five years of age for a new research study looking at early delays in grammar development.

“By the time kids reach preschool age, most have developed basic grammar skills,” said Dr. Kerry Proctor-Williams, an associate professor of Communicative Disorders at ETSU. “But there are some who fall behind, and the delay is something that cannot be attributed to an underlying condition, such as hearing loss or autism. Unfortunately, early difficulties in language often lead to later problems with reading and social relationships.”

Children with a history of language difficulties or delays – as well as those with normal development – are needed for the study, which involves 9 to 12 sessions at the ETSU Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic. Those who complete the research project will receive $100.

Proctor-Williams will test a treatment approach called “recasting” that has shown effectiveness in her previous studies. In recasting, she explained, when a child says something that is grammatically incorrect, the parents often immediately repeat what the child says but with a correction. For example, a child says “He running,” and the parent replies “He is running.”

“It seems that children with language delays need to hear these more often than those with normal development to learn new grammar,” Proctor-Williams said.

One question she will look to answer in the study is how often recasts should be used and over what duration of time in order to speed up the learning of children who are delayed so it matches that of normally developing children.

“It is critical that the study includes children with normal language development and those with delays in order to compare differences in learning,” she explained. “Following an assessment of their grammar, we will teach the kids ‘made-up’ verbs, and then examine how often they have to hear recasts to learn the past tense.”

Her study is funded through a three-year $204,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).

Interested participants can contact Proctor-Williams at (423) 439-7187 or


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