Information Processing in Children
With Specific Language Impairment
Ronald B. Gillam
LaVae M. Hoffman
University of Texas
This chapter reviews the research pertaining to various accounts of the relationship between cognition and language learning in children with specific language impairment (SLI). We explore the evidence for and against five hypotheses of the nature of information-processing difficulties experienced by children with SLI. First, attention problems may interfere with children's ability to select and concentrate on relevant stimuli in the environment. Second, children with SLI may have trouble perceiving speech. Third, children with SLI may have difficulty with the mental representation of speech (termed phonological representation). Fourth, children with SLI may present deficiencies in central executive functions. The final hypothesis we consider is that children with SLI have a generalized limitation in cognitive capacity that causes both information-processing problems and language learning problems. The evidence we review indicates that children with language impairments have information-processing systems that are simultaneously constrained by a variety of factors that lead to inadequate processing abilities.
Attention involves at least two mechanisms: activation and focus (Cowan, 1995). Usually in language learning and use, individuals activate prior knowledge that is related to the information to which they are listening. Then they hold their activated knowledge in a state of readiness until it is needed for comprehending and responding.