Speech and language: risk factors and disorders

Cost Action IS1406, Enhancing children’s oral language skills across Europe and beyond: a collaboration focusing on interventions for children with difficulties learning their first language

The main objectives of the Action are to increase the effectiveness of interventions for children with Language Impairment and improve understanding of the context in which those interventions are delivered. The Action is coordinated by a Management Committee (MC), under which Working Groups (WGs) are set up.

Chair of the Action:

  • James Law, Newcastle University, UK

Finnish MC members:

  • Professor Sari Kunnari, University of Oulu
  • PhD, docent Marja Laasonen Helsinki University Hospital and University of Helsinki
  • MC Substitute Members: MA, doctoral student Anna-Kaisa Tolonen, University of Oulu and MA, doctoral student Sini Smolander, Helsinki University Hospital and University of Oulu


  • Horizon 2020

Specific language impairment (SLI) in children with immigrant background

The aim of this project is to find out the typical patterns of second language acquisition in children with immigrant background. Further, there is a need to discover the best clinical markers of SLI in these children and to find out the most suitable assessment tools for diagnosing SLI. 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.

Research team:

  • The phoniatric division in the Helsinki University Central Hospital
  • Professor Sari Kunnari


  • Professor Johanne Paradis, University of Alberta, Canada


  • Helsinki University Central Hospital and Kela

Further information:

Speech, language, learning and communication skills in preterm children – follow-up studies in different cohorts

The aim is to assess speech, language, learning, and communication skills, and their background factors in preterm children at different ages in hospital and population based study cohorts. In addition, the possible effect of different treatments during the neonatal intensive care will be studied, and regarding the school-age children, the possible medical risk factors will be evaluated. There are altogether over 400 preterm children in the different cohorts at the moment. In addition, the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986, which includes 9457 children, will be studied. Also, the effect of communication problems on academic skills and later behaviour at school age will be studied.

Main researcher:

  • PhD, university researcher, SLT Anneli Yliherva


  • Dept. of Pediatrics, Institute of Health Sciences, University of Oulu, Finland
  • Dept. of Pediatrics, Imperial College, London, UK
  • King’s College, London, UK
  • Institute of Education, University of London, UK
  • Dept. of Interdisciplinary Studies in Professional Practice, School of Community and Health Sciences, City University, London, UK
  • School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  • School of Public Health and Clinical Sciences, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK


  • University of Oulu, university researcher 2008-2010, scholarship for international collaboration 2009-2011

Predictors of late language emergence (LLE) and factors influencing later linguistic outcomes

Late language emergence (LLE), which has been labelled in the literature as late talking, refers to situation when otherwise healthy children require more time to begin talking. Even if some of these children experience only transient language problems, late-talking toddlers are at great risk of continuing to experience language-learning difficulties once they enter school. In fact, earlier research suggests that this group of children with a vocabulary delay at 2 years of age is far from being homogeneous. Therefore, a better understanding of the characteristics of late talking is critical. Multifactorial framework to explain late language emergence – and also the normal range of variation in language development – will be implemented in this project, because to date the potential predictive factors have mostly been studied in isolation. Firstly, the contributions of children’s differential linguistic profiles to later linguistic outcomes are considered. Secondly, the predictive status of several other child as well as parental and family variables to LLE and later linguistic development are investigated.  Special emphasis is put on child socio-emotional development and maternal verbal interactive style when examining the potential predictors.

Project leader:

  • PhD, lecturer Leila Paavola

Research team:

  • Professor, PhD Sari Kunnari
  • Professor, MD, PhD Hanna Ebeling
  • MA, SLT Katariina Rantalainen, Kymenlaakso Central Hospital, Kotka


  • Professor, PhD Päivi Pihlaja, University of Turku
  • Professor, PhD Alice Carter, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA
  • Irma Moilanen, Professor (emerita), MD, PhD

The norming study of the short, Finnish versions of the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories

Recognizing weak language development early (i.e. ≤ 2 years) in clinical work is challenging. One reason for this is that the measures which can be used for early screening are scarce. The main aim of the present study project is to adapt and to norm the short form versions of the Communicative Development Inventories to Finnish. The study group is 80 full-term children whose language development will be followed longitudinally from nine months of age up to the age of five years.

Project leader:

  •  Docent Suvi Stolt


  • MA Suvi Vehkavuori
  • MA Eija Aalto
  • BA Elina Simula
  • BA Annika Lehto


  • PhD, Katri Saaristo-Helin, University of Oulu


  • Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation

Early development of receptive lexicon and gestures in preterm children – associations to cognitive development and  background factors

Earlier findings suggest that the slow development of early receptive lexicon and gestures at the age of one year and at the beginning of the second year are good indicators for weak language development at two years of age in preterm children. However, the associations between early language-communicative development and later cognitive development have not yet been studied. In addition, the background factors which influence the early language-communicative development are unclear. The main aim of this register study is to analyze the associations between very early language-communicative development and later cognitive development in preterm children, and to investigate the background factors which influence the development of early receptive lexicon and gestures in preterm children.

Project leader:

  •  Docent Suvi Stolt and docent Helena Lapinleimu


  • BA Pauliina Alatalo
  • BA Hannele Hirsikorpi
  • MD (Lic.Med., doctoral student) Jaana Saranto


  • MD, PhD Satu Jääskeläinen
  • PhD (Psych.) Petriina Munck
  • MA (Psych.) Eeva Eskola