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Differences in brain activity and language learning between children with and without DLD.

Hancock, A. S., Warren, C. M., Barrett, T. S., Bolton, D. A. E., & Gillam, R. B. (2023). Functional near-infrared spectroscopy measures of neural activity in children with and without developmental language disorder during a working memory task. Brain and Behaviour, 13(2).


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Key terms in this paper:

  • Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS): a brain imaging technique that shows which part of your brain is ‘busiest’ when completing a task.

  • Brain activity: how hard your brain is working to complete a task.

  • Working memory: the ability to keep a small amount of information in your mind for 2-3 seconds to complete a task.

  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPC): an area of the brain which is used in working memory.

  • Parietal lobe: an area of the brain which brings together information from our different senses (e.g., taste, hearing, sight, touch, and smell).


Aim of the paper:

Children with DLD have difficulties that can make it harder to learn language. However, little is known about how the brain activity of children with DLD is different to children without DLD.


This study compared how well children with DLD (9 to 14 years old) did on a working memory task, when compared to those without DLD. The working memory task increased in difficulty over time. This study also used fNIRS to see which areas of the brain were ‘busiest’ in children with and without DLD whilst they completed the task.


What was found:

Children with DLD found the working memory task harder to complete than the children without DLD. This was reflected in their brain activity:

  • As the task got more difficult, there was more activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and parietal lobes in the brains of children without DLD.

  • This means that these brain areas were working harder to complete the working memory task.

  • In comparison, as the task got more difficult, these brain areas in children with DLD did not show increased activity.


What does this mean?

This study helps us understand why children with DLD find it harder to learn language. Differences in brain activity suggest that there are two reasons:

  • Memory problems – children with DLD may struggle to remember new words.

  • Children with DLD need more time to combine different sources of information - for example, they may find it harder to bring together the different parts of a long sentence.


In the future, children with DLD could receive extra help with these difficulties. This can hopefully make it easier for them to learn language.


Where can I read this paper?

This paper is open access, which means everyone can read it. Please click here to find the full paper: https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.2895


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