In recent years, interest in primary language disorders and cognitive comorbidities that often occur is increasing. The consensus conference[1] of 2019 made it clear that linguistic disorders are usually associated with various types of cognitive difficulties. These include alterations in the executive functions.

As can be understood from the title, the research we are talking about concerns the association between executive functions and specific linguistic decifits in preschool children.

Marini and collaborators conducted a study[2] on a small group of children, aged between 4 and 5 years of age, about half of whom were diagnosed with primary language disorder. The aim was to investigate the following aspects:

  • If children with speech disorders had lower performance tests on executive functions
  • If in the linguistic field the deficits concerned understanding and production
  • If the scores in the tests on executive functions correlated with linguistic and narrative difficulties

To this end, all children were tested for verbal working memory, Namely the Memory of Figures of the WISC-R, to a test for theinhibition, that is, theInhibition of NEPSY-II, and several tests of language taken from the BVL 4-12 going to evaluate the articulatory and phonological discrimination skills, lexical skills in understanding and production, grammatical skills in understanding and production, and narrative skills.

Results

Compared to first hypothesis, the data confirm what researchers imagined: on average, children diagnosed with primary language disorder showed lower scores in the tests of executive functions used (working memory e inhibition).



About the second hypothesis, the data are more complex: some linguistic aspects are on average lower in children with primary language disorder (articulatory skills, phonological discrimination, grammatical understanding and production, use of appropriate words in narrative production) while other verbal aspects are comparable to those of children with typical development (production and lexical understanding, errors of global understanding during the telling of a story).

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Regarding the third hypothesis, the executive functions evaluated are actually correlated with many linguistic aspects: 17% of the articulatory skills scores were explained by working memory; working memory explained 16% of the variance of phonological discrimination and inhibition explained 59%; 38% of variance of grammatical understanding was explained by working memory while inhibition explained 49% of it; working memory explained 10% of lexical informativity, while 30% of the latter was explained by scores in inhibition tests; finally, the inhibition explained the 22% variance of the scores related to the completeness of the sentences.

Conclusions

The data just cited suggest a close relationship between language disorders and executive functions (or at least some components). Children with linguistic difficulties they are more likely to also have difficulties at least in working memory and / or in their inhibitory abilities. Furthermore, the correlations found indicated that the more severe the verbal deficits are, the more likely it is to find alterations in executive functions.

A direct consequence of this is that, in the face of a speech disorder, it is essential broaden cognitive assessment at least to the scope of executive functions given their transversal importance in most of the child's life contexts and given the probability that there are actual deficits in this domain.

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Dr. Ivano Anemone
He deals with neuropsychology in developmental, adult and senile age. He currently collaborates in several projects concerning the cognitive aspects in some neurodegenerative diseases.

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