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Language development and intervention

Language is the use of arbitrary sounds, with accepted referents, that can be arranged in different sequences to convey different meanings. Its basic components are phonology, semantics, syntax, and pragmatics. As children practice and master sounds (phonemes), meanings (semantics), and grammatical rules (syntax), they also learn rules and conventions governing conversation (pragmatics). Language learning is often divided into two main stages: prespeech and speech. In the speech stage, a child progresses from sounds to words, grammar, and pragmatics. In the prespeech stage, meaningful speech sounds are gradually developed; this stage lasts from birth to about the end of the first year or early part of the second and ends with the appearance of single words. Achievements in the prespeech stage include the appearance of the intention to communicate, evident in signals and gestures that have meaning from infant and caregiver; and the discovery of symbols--that things have names. The ability to use and understand words grows out of a complex series of interactions between infants and parents, including eye contact, directing attention through eye movements and gestures, and turn-taking. Language delays are an early sign that a child is not receiving and processing information properly. Underlying language and communication problems appear to be major factors in reading disorders, behavior disorders, and learning disabilities. Of the 35% U.S. children who enter kindergarten unprepared to learn, most lack the necessary language skills to participate fully in school. Some of the causes of speech or language disorders are related to hearing loss, cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular disorders, severe head injury, stroke, viral diseases, mental retardation, certain drugs, physical impairments (e.g., cleft palate), voice abuse or misuse, and inadequate speech and language models. Frequently, the cause is unknown.

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Services and Programs

  • Family Outreach Center
    Disability-specific programs associated with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and other organizations at Vanderbilt provide a broad range of treatment, research, technical assistance, education, and outreach services.
  • KidTalk
    KidTalk intervention procedures are based on more than 50 research studies demonstrating that naturalistic, conversation-based language teaching implemented by parents and teachers is effective for teaching young children functional communication skills. Children taught using KidTalk procedures typically learn new vocabulary, talk in longer sentences, and develop strong, positive relationships with their parents, teachers and peers.
  • Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences
    Dedicated to serving persons with diseases of the ear, nose, throat, head and neck, and hearing, speech, language and related disorders (including autism spectrum disorders).

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