Gesture Production in Language Impairment: It's Quality, Not Quantity, That Matters

Charlotte Wray, Natalie Saunders, Rosie McGuire, Georgia Cousins, Courtenay Norbury

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The aim of this study was to determine whether children with language impairment (LI) use gesture to compensate for their language difficulties.

The present study investigated gesture accuracy and frequency in children with LI (n = 21) across gesture imitation, gesture elicitation, spontaneous narrative, and interactive problem-solving tasks, relative to typically developing (TD) peers (n = 18) and peers with low language and educational concerns (n = 21).

Children with LI showed weaknesses in gesture accuracy (imitation and gesture elicitation) in comparison to TD peers, but no differences in gesture rate. Children with low language only showed weaknesses in gesture imitation and used significantly more gestures than TD peers during parent–child interaction. Across the whole sample, motor abilities were significantly related to gesture accuracy but not gesture rate. In addition, children with LI produced proportionately more extending gestures, suggesting that they may use gesture to replace words that they are unable to articulate verbally.

The results support the notion that gesture and language form a tightly linked communication system in which gesture deficits are seen alongside difficulties with spoken communication. Furthermore, it is the quality, not quantity of gestures that distinguish children with LI from typical peers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)969-982
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2017

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