Current Studies

Developmental Language Disorder

DLD, or Developmental Language Disorder, is virtually unknown outside of the academic world, despite being as common among children as its well-known cousin, dyslexia, which has become a household word over the past few decades.

“I once wrote in a paper that DLD is a great mystery because these children have difficulty learning and understanding language for no obvious reason, something that comes with ease for most children,” says Tiffany Hogan, a professor in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders and director of the Speech and Language Literacy (SAiL) Lab. “Unfortunately, there are no organizations solely devoted to educating the public about DLD and few informational books or websites where people can learn about it.”

Hogan and her team of researchers are testing about 700 kindergarten students in several elementary schools in and around Boston, using a grant from the National Institutes of Health. The five-year study aims to raise public awareness of the condition and prevent students with DLD from slipping through the cracks.

Only about a third of DLD students are identified or are being treated in schools, despite it affecting about two students in every typical classroom of 24. Problem is, the condition is difficult to spot because many students with DLD can read just fine but have trouble following and understanding what they’ve heard or what they’ve read. “It’s harder to see what a child can’t comprehend, so it’s often missed,” Hogan says. “Dyslexia isn’t as hidden—it’s more obvious because a child can’t read printed words.” And to further complicate things, she says about half of students with DLD also have dyslexia.

Unlike students with ADHD, children with DLD don’t typically act out or fidget in class, the kinds of actions that command a teacher’s attention. Instead, they may be quiet or look like they’re daydreaming when, in fact, they may be trying really hard to follow the classroom conversation. Often, they’re mislabeled as lazy.

Hogan leads a team of collaborators—Julie Wolter from the University of Montana, Suzanne Adlof from the University of South Carolina, Jessie Ricketts from Royal Holloway, University of London, and Yaacov Petscher from Florida State University—to track the students with DLD from kindergarten to second grade. The same team, led by Adlof and including the MGH Institute’s Annie Fox, assistant professor of quantitative methods, is using a second NIH grant to follow a separate group of DLD students from second to fourth grade.

Hogan’s goal is to make DLD as familiar as dyslexia by helping to create an informative website and working with teachers and parents to help reduce the number of kids with DLD who are overlooked.

Funding Sources

National Institutes of Health R01 Research Grant (NIH R01 DC106895): Orthography and phonology in word learning as a predictor of dyslexia in children with language impairment, 2018-2023

National Institutes of Health R01 Research Grant (NIH R01 DC010784): Working memory and word learning in children with typical development and language impairment, 2011-2016

Institute of Education Sciences Reading for Understanding Research Initiative (R305F100002): The Language Bases of Reading Comprehension, 2010-2016

University of Nebraska Great Plains Health Research Consortium Translational Research, Biological pathways in childhood speech and language impairments, 2010-2012

National Institutes of Health Supplement Grant (NIH R03 DC9667-03S1): Supplement R03 to the lexicon and phoneme awareness, 2010

National Institutes of Health R03 Small Grant Award (NIH R03 DC9667): The lexicon and phoneme awareness, 2008-2011

University of Nebraska - Lincoln College of Education and Human Sciences Scholarly Enhancement Research Grant, 2009-2010

American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation New Investigator Research Award: An experimental evaluation of competing phonological awareness treatments, 2007-2009

International Dyslexia Association General Research Grant: Phonological, lexical, and semantic influences on phonological awareness performance, 2007-2008

American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation Multicultural Research Grant: Understanding the Navajo: Language, culture, and people, 2007-2008

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Advancing Academic- Research Careers Award: Mentorship in an early research career with a focus on student research training, 2006-2007, Mentors: Judith Gierut, LouAnn Gerken, & Elena Plante

International Reading Association Jeanne S. Chall Research Fellowship: Emergent phonological awareness: The role of lexical representations, 2005-2006

National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NIH F31 DC6749): Lexical representations and phonological awareness, 2004-2006, Co-mentors: Hugh Catts & Holly Storkel