Researcher with headphones scoring an assessment sheet The Language Acquisition Studies Lab has been in operation for 20 years, under the direction of Dr. Mabel Rice. The studies in the lab are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and are approved by the University of Kansas Human Subjects Committee. Data collection is carried out by a team of trained professional examiners with extensive experience in homes and school settings. Currently, we work with individual children who are enrolled in more than 100 school districts with hundreds of classroom teachers. The purpose of our studies is to increase our understanding of young children's language development. The children we focus on are children with Specific Language Impairment. These youngsters do not have other developmental disabilities, yet they are language impaired. We also study children without language impairments, for comparison purposes.

Image of researcher scoring assessment sheetFor the past 15 years we have been working with a longitudinal sample of children we recruited when they were preschoolers. As these youngsters grow and move around in their educational placements, we stay in touch with them and schedule regular assessments to track their language growth. For children ages 8 and under we see them twice a year; 9 and over we see them once a year. We also study these children's family members.

This year we are recruiting new youngsters to increase our sample sizes. Children with SLI are often difficult to identify, and are distributed across many school districts, often with a single youngster or two per elementary school that might meet our criteria. When we contact schools, we ask permission to contact teachers to ask them to send a letter to families to inform them of the study and request their permission for us to contact them to schedule an initial meeting to describe the study and their child's involvement. If the child meets our criteria, we work with the parents and the schools for the best time to carry out the assessment. If the parents prefer, the assessments can be completed in the home setting; if it is OK with the classroom teacher and parents, we work with the teachers for convenient times to collect assessment sessions with the child. Typically, our protocols require 4-5 individual sessions, usually about 30-45 minutes each. Data collection is carried out in vans that are customized for this purpose. This means that we provide our own testing space, and seldom require any other space for the assessments.

Image of researchers reviewing a laptop assessment The benefits to the study are several, but they are not always direct. Parents and children receive a small financial payment for their participation. Teachers in school districts who assist with a number of participants receive small gift certificates at Target or Wal-Mart stores to assist with classroom extras. This is not an intervention study. The NIH supports it to increase our knowledge base with the goal of long-term application to better treatment. We do not get involved in treatment decisions for the children who participate. Our charge is to describe the growth of these youngsters, regardless of academic setting.

Results of our studies appear in scientific, peer-reviewed journals. A current listing of these reports can be found on the web site of Mabel Rice, Director of the LAS lab. Dr. Rice's faculty website».

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