Research Highlights ‘Word Gap’ as Treatable Health Care Issue in Children Closing the “word gap” between babies from low- and high-income homes is more than just an educational issue—it could help decrease the risk of significant health problems too, according to a group of researchers. A number of programs are showing promise at addressing the word gap—the large disparity in the ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   April 01, 2017
Research Highlights ‘Word Gap’ as Treatable Health Care Issue in Children
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Professional Issues & Training / Normal Language Processing / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   April 01, 2017
Research Highlights ‘Word Gap’ as Treatable Health Care Issue in Children
The ASHA Leader, April 2017, Vol. 22, 14. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.22042017.14
The ASHA Leader, April 2017, Vol. 22, 14. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.22042017.14
Closing the “word gap” between babies from low- and high-income homes is more than just an educational issue—it could help decrease the risk of significant health problems too, according to a group of researchers.
A number of programs are showing promise at addressing the word gap—the large disparity in the number of words children hear in low-income versus higher-income homes. By engaging parents and health providers of very young children, the programs appear to positively influence parents’ and children’s use of words, say the scientists who presented a collection of research on the topic at the 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting on Feb. 17 in Boston. (ASHA annually submits and sponsors presentations, including this one, at the AAAS meeting.) The international nonprofit’s conference brings scientists and media members together for the purpose of knowledge translation.
The body of research presented—representing previous and forthcoming studies—paints lower educational attainment, often born of poverty and exacerbated by the word gap, as a public health issue. Additional education often comes with reduced risk of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, according to research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation cited during the session.
The presentations highlighted various interventions in which parents play a crucial role. A program like Providence Talks uses LENA “talk pedometers” to help families track words used and conversational turns to provide feedback and instruction to parents and caregivers, says its executive director Caitlin Molina. Children in the program from families with daily word counts under the 50th percentile are hearing 44 percent more words after the program, Molina adds.

Programs have enlisted a variety of service providers to help bolster parents’ use of words.

Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, assistant professor and neonatal nurse practitioner at The George Washington University School of Nursing and director of infant research at its Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute, spoke about Talk With Me Baby, a public campaign initiated in Atlanta, which includes a mobile app that provides tips and reminds parents to talk to their babies throughout the week. Most families involved with the pilot study used strategies from the app more than five times a day.
As with Talk With Me Baby, which also recruited nurses to help model and normalize speaking to babies—right from the moment they’re born—other programs have also enlisted a variety of service providers to help bolster parents’ use of words.
Alan Mendelsohn, associate professor of pediatrics and population health at the New York University School of Medicine, studied the Video Interaction Project (VIP), in which coaches use recorded interactions between parents and children to demonstrate opportunities for better communication. While also increasing parents’ conversation with children, VIP reduced externalized behaviors and increased attention in children with hyperactivity enrolled in the study, Mendelsohn says.
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April 2017
Volume 22, Issue 4