Functional organisation for verb generation in children with developmental language disorder

Saloni Krishnan, Salomi Asaridou, Gabriel Cler, Harriet Smith, Hannah Willis, Máiréad Healy, Paul Thompson, Dorothy Bishop, Kate Watkins

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Developmental language disorder (DLD) is characterised by difficulties in learning one’s native language for no apparent reason. These language difficulties occur in 7% of children and are known to limit future academic and social achievement. Our understanding of the brain abnormalities associated with DLD is limited. Here, we used a simple four-minute verb generation task (children saw a picture of an object and were instructed to say an action that goes with that object) to test children between the ages of 10-15 years (DLD N=50, typically developing N=67). We also tested 26 children with poor language ability who did not meet our criteria for DLD. Contrary to our registered predictions, we found that children with DLD did not have (i) reduced activity in language relevant regions such as the left inferior frontal cortex; (ii) dysfunctional striatal activity during overt production; or (iii) a reduction in left-lateralised activity in frontal cortex. Indeed, performance of this simple language task evoked activity in children with DLD in the same regions and to a similar level as in typically developing children. Consistent with previous reports, we found sub-threshold group differences in the left inferior frontal gyrus and caudate nuclei, but only when analysis was limited to a subsample of the DLD group (N=14) who had the poorest performance on the task. Additionally, we used a two-factor model to capture variation in all children studied (N=143) on a range of neuropsychological tests and found that these language and verbal memory factors correlated with activity in different brain regions. Our findings indicate a lack of support for some neurological models of atypical language learning, such as the procedural deficit hypothesis or the atypical lateralization hypothesis, at least when using simple language tasks that children can perform. These results also emphasise the importance of controlling for and monitoring task performance.
Original languageEnglish
Article number117599
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Early online date4 Dec 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Dec 2020

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