U.Va. Education Professor Can Shed Light on Oft-Undetected Children’s Communication Disorder

• LaVae Hoffman
Assistant professor, Curry School of Education, Communication Disorders Program

August 24, 2009 — As students head back to school, LaVae Hoffman, a professor in the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, can share new research into a little-known communication disorder among children that often goes undetected and can hinder their ability to learn to read and write.

The disorder, Specific Language Impairment, affects 5 percent to 7 percent of children – higher than the incidence of autism, Hoffman said.

'Children with Specific Language Impairment are those who fail to develop age-appropriate abilities to understand what is being said to them and to put sentences together to express their ideas and meet their communication needs,' Hoffman explained.

'For example, one 8-year-old with this impairment described a picture of a boy holding a gift with this statement: ‘Him a present and he's waiting what's inside.' "

Hoffman said, "We do not yet know why a substantial number of children fail to develop adequate language skills. These children do not have hearing or vision problems. They have normal intelligence. They do not have gross neurological deficits. They do not have emotional or behavioral disorders, and they usually come from homes with parents and caregivers who are supportive and nurturing; yet, for some unknown reason, their language skills do not unfold as other children's do."

Hoffman's research provides resources for speech-language pathologists, parents and educators to help them make decisions on behalf of children with Specific Language Impairments so that they may reach their academic potential, Hoffman said.

She hopes to work with local school districts soon 'to further our understanding of this disorder, its academic implications and ways to ameliorate its effects.'

Hoffman's groundbreaking study
recently won an award from the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.