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An investigation of nonverbal imitation and language in children with specific language delay

Dohmen, A. (2012). An investigation of nonverbal imitation and language in children with specific language delay. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


Children with specific deficits in language do not form a homogeneous group, but present with varied profiles of language skills and deficits. Research in children with language problems has focussed on deficits in the acquisition of lexical forms and syntactic structures of language, but our understanding of children's deficits with the meaning of language remains limited. Sociocognitive abilities are necessary for discovering the meaning of language, and it has been hypothesised that some children with specific deficits in language have sociocognitive difficulties. In this thesis, it is argued that nonverbal imitation, which does not involve the processing of structural aspects of language, may be indicative of sociocognitive difficulties. More specifically, it is argued that types of nonverbal imitation which serve a primarily social Junction are more informative about sociocognitive abilities than types of nonverbal imitation which serve a primarily instrumental function. In line with this reasoning, it has been found that different forms of nonverbal imitation can be separately impaired and associated with different language skills in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASO), who are known to have sociocognitive difficulties. However, there has been very little exploration of nonverbal imitation skills in children with specific deficits in language, and existing studies have predominantly involved school-age children. This study set out to investigate elicited immediate nonverbal imitation as a measure of sociocognitive skills in young typically developing (TO) children and children with specific language delay (SLO), and also to investigate relations between performance on nonverbal imitation and language in the SLD sample. A subsidiary aim was to compare the performance of the TD and SLD samples on verbal imitation. Participants were German-speaking TD (n=60) and SLD (n=45) children aged 2-3 1/2 years, who were divided into three age groups (2;0-2;5, 2;6-2;11, 3;0-3;5 years). A novel battery of tasks measured their attempt and ability to imitate a range of nonverbal (body movements, common instrumental acts on objects, pretend acts) and verbal (words, nonwords, sentences) target acts. It was found that groups with SLD performed significantly below TO groups on some, but importantly not all, nonverbal imitation tasks. Results demonstrated that children with SLD did not have a general difficulty with nonverbal imitation, but a specific difficulty with target acts hypothesised to serve a primarily social function. A comparison of types and rates of nonverbal imitation errors revealed that error patterns in the oldest SLD group resembled those in the youngest TD group, suggesting a delay rather than deviance in some types of nonverbal imitation within the SLD sample. Different relations between performance on nonverbal imitation and language emerged at different ages, pointing towards the possibility that the nature of associations between nonverbal imitation and language might be linked to age and change over time. As expected, results revealed verbal imitation deficits in the SLD sample at all ages. The theoretical and clinical implications of findings are discussed.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Departments: School of Health Sciences > Language & Communication Science
Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Health Sciences Doctoral Theses
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2015 10:14
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