PhD theses in progress

Efficacy of auditory training on central auditory processing disorder in children with specific language impairment (SLI)

Leena Ervast, Phil. Lic., Specialised Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

The term specific language impairment (SLI) refers to children who have significant difficulties in learning and mastering their native language at the expected rate and age despite normal cognitive development. One potential risk factor for SLI is poor central auditory processing disorder (CAPD). The aim of this study is to investigate central auditory processing in Finnish preschool children with SLI and to assess the effect of intensive computer-based training on CAP.

Inhibitory control and audiovisual perception in children with specific language impairment (SLI)

Elisa Heikkinen, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

Inhibitory control is an ability to inhibit and stop reactions and to protect reactions from competing stimuli. Well-functioning visual and auditory skills, and the ability to focus on relevant information are prerequisites for normal language development. Poor inhibitory control and audiovisual perception might be factors behind language learning difficulties. The aim of this study is to investigate the development of inhibitory control and audiovisual perception in healthy children, and in children with specific language impairment.

Speech, language and learning and their risk factors among school-aged children born preterm

Minna Heikkinen, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

As preterm birth may be associated with health and educational problems, the research interests in this study are to investigate what kind of results altered brain development after birth might cause in long-term neurodevelopment in 8-to 9 -year-old children. Delays may include, for example, neuromotor, cognitive, language, and literacy deficits. The data will be gathered as part of a prospective, longitudinal cohort study of very preterm children born in the Oulu University Hospital during the years 1998-2001 (n= 163). The children will be examined using neurological and cognitive evaluations, brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and language tests. The study will be held in co-operation with the Department of Pediatrics.

Central auditory processing (CAP) and musical training

Kaisu Heinänen, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

Language and music perception are based on equal acoustical characteristics, their underlying neural structures and processes being considerably overlapping. The training of musical skills during early age has been shown to have an impact on central auditory processing (CAP). The main aim of the present study is to find out what kind of effect the early musical training has on CAP and development of language skills.

Simultaneous acquisition of Finnish Sign Language and spoken Finnish in hearing children of deaf parents

Laura Kanto, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

Data collected in a natural bimodal and bilingual language acquisition
environment can ideally be used for exploring development of simultaneous use of words, gestures and signs. The aim of the study is to find out how one to three-year-old hearing children of deaf parents communicate with deaf and hearing interlocutors and how they modify their language use as a function of their interlocutor’s communication mode. Additional aim is to describe the process of early bilingual and bimodal language development in a bicultural environment.

An Acoustic Study of Fricative Production – A Comparison of /s/ Coarticulation Development in Finnish-speaking Children

Pentti Körkkö, Phil. Lic., Lecturer in phonetics, PhD student

In adult Finnish speech, several coarticulatory effects appear in the production of /s/. There is a gap in the data available for young children in the process of acquiring the phonetic features of /s/ especially in combinatorial sequences of /s/ and vowels and /s/ and other consonants. The present study attempts to document normal (typical) and potentially deviant (atypical) acoustic variation of children’s /s/ productions in various contexts in age groups below, at and above the age of assumed /s/ production stabilization. The results of the study are applicable in articulation therapy and serve as a database against which both typical and deviant developmental features of /s/ productions and articulation in general can be acoustically and therefore more objectively assessed.

Classification of childhood speech sound disorders

Anna-Leena Martikainen, Phil. Lic., Specialised Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

Children with speech sound disorders (SSD) of unknown origin compose a heterogeneous population. Speech difficulty may manifest itself in various forms from a single speech sound error to highly unintelligible speech, or even lack of speech. Grouping children with SSD to clinical subtypes is essential for making a more precise diagnosis and for choosing the most effective intervention method. This study investigates the speech characteristics and the underlining abilities of speech production, i.e. oral and verbal motor abilities, speech perception, and phonological awareness both in children with typical speech development and children with SSD. The main aim is to find out if there are distinct developmental profiles among children with SSD. This knowledge would be useful in differentiating speech disorders.

Assessment of narrative abilities in children with typical language development, specific language impairment and high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome

Leena Mäkinen, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

The main aim of this dissertation is to find out how narrative abilities can be assessed in Finnish language. Also, the narrative abilities of children with specific language impairment (SLI) and children with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome (HFA/AS) will be studied. The performance of clinical groups will be compared to the performance of children with typical language development (TD). The data will consist of 180–200 children with typical language development (from 3- to 9-year-olds) and 15–20 children from each clinical group. In addition, the development of narrative abilities in the TD group will be studied.

The effects of background noise on central auditory discrimination

Elina Niemitalo-Haapola, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

One form of pollution in the modern society is high background noise, the background noise having various effects on speech perception and attention. While the effects of background noise have been intensively studied in adults, there are so far barely any studies on noise effects on central auditory processing (CAP) in young children, who are still acquiring their language skills. The aim of this study is to evaluate the effects of background noise on CAP in children at the age of two years.

The effect of TEACCH intervention on communication and psychoeducational skills in children with intellectual disability and childhood autism

Päivi Närhi, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

The purpose of the present study is to evaluate the effect of TEACCH intervention on enhancing communication and psycho-educational skills in children with childhood autism. In addition, the aim is to find out if the abnormal behavioral patterns of these children decrease after intervention. In this phase there are 20 children with childhood autism who are randomized in treatment (n = 10) and control groups (n = 10).

Linquistic and learning abilities at the age of 8−10 years in children with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)

Lea Partanen, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

IUGR is recognized to be a risk for non-optimal neurological development and poor learning skills later at school-age. The aim of the present study is to compare linquistic and learning abilities of IUGR children and their appropriate-for-gestational-age control children (AGA) at the age of 8 -10 years. The data is part of a prospectively collected cohort of children born with IUGR (n=95) in 1998–2003 in the University Hospital of Oulu and AGA controls (n=36).

Language development and specific language impairment (SLI) in children with immigrant background

Sini Smolander, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

About 5 % of the Finnish population do not speak Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue/first language. By clinical observation, children with Finnish as a second language are referred to language assessments and diagnosed as having SLI much more often than are children with Finnish as their first language. However, this should not be the case, since multilingual environment in itself is not considered a risk factor for SLI. On the other hand, explaining all difficulties in language acquisition as stemming from the added difficulty of having to acquire two languages, could lead to underdiagnosing of SLI. There is a need to find out what the typical patterns of second language acquisition in children with immigrant background are. There is also a need to discover the best clinical markers of SLI in these children. The purpose of this study is also to find out what the most suitable direct and indirect assessment tools for diagnosing SLI are. This study is a part of a broader Helsinki SLI study which makes it possible to examine the effect of different background variables on different SLI phenotypes. This study is instrumental in developing SLI diagnostics to be used with multilingual populations. It aims to reduce the learning difficulties encountered by children with immigrant background, and thus to enhance their integration into Finnish society by enabling them to have better employment opportunities in the future.

Phonological and lexical skills and speech intelligibility in children with hearing aids or a cochlear implant

Anna-Kaisa Tolonen, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

Hearing impairments are known to pose a risk for children’s speech and language development. However, there are still relatively few studies on the speech and language development of children with hearing impairments acquiring Finnish. This study aims to investigate and compare the phonological and lexical skills in children with hearing aids or a cochlear implant. In addition, the speech intelligibility of these children will also be assessed. This study is part of an ongoing research project ‘Speech perception and speech and language development in children with unilateral and/or bilateral cochlear implant(-s) and bilateral hearing aids’ funded by the Academy of Finland.

Screening weak language skills early – findings from the norming study of the Finnish short-form version of the CDI

Suvi Vehkavuori, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

Recognizing delayed language skills early is challenging. In addition, more information on the relationship between early and later language skills is needed. This study aims to get new information on early language development with two screening methods. The role of the size and composition of early lexicon as predictors of later language skills is also analyzed. The participants are 80 healthy, full-term Finnish children. Their language skills are assessed at 1;0, 2;0 and 3;6 years of age. Different aspects of language development are analyzed and different types of methods are used in order to get representative information on language development. The present study provides new information on screening language skills early as well as on the role of early lexical skills as predictors of later language skills. This study is part of the ongoing norming study of the Finnish short form version of the Communicative Development Inventory

Development of pragmatic skills in children with hearing impairment

Krista Wallenius, MA, Speech and Language Therapist, PhD student

Pragmatic skills are known to be related to children´s self-image and peer relationships. However, very little is still known about the development of pragmatic skills of hearing impaired children. Moreover, there are currently very few published studies on the pragmatic development of hearing impaired children acquiring spoken Finnish. The purpose of the present study is to compare the development of pragmatic skills of children with cochlear implant(s) to that of children with hearing aids. Also, the pragmatic development of children with hearing impairment will be compared to that of children with normal hearing. This study applies the theory of Cognitive Pragmatics, and is a part of an ongoing research project ‘Speech perception and speech and language development in children with unilateral and/or bilateral cochlear implant(-s) and bilateral hearing aids’  funded by the Academy of Finland.