Communication and language both contribute to a child’s cognitive development. Owens (2016) defines language as a “socially shared code or conventional system for representing concepts through the use of arbitrary symbols and rule-governed combinations of those symbols” similarly, the DfE (2013 a) speaks of the significance of how spoken language will be beneficial for children across all subjects as well as how language will help children with the way they think, the way they interact with their peers and how they will be able articulate themselves (Owens , 2016) (DfE, 2013a). Communication is between one or more individuals, and between them they can discuss information and ideas. Without language, you cannot have communication. Children need to have good linguistic skills so that they can verbally express themselves to their peers, teachers and their parents. The case study I have chosen to discuss in this essay is; Becky. Becky is a six year old girl who was adopted from a young age and has a mild hearing impairment, as well as a language delay.
Becky was adopted at the age of two years old; before she was adopted there was a history of neglect from her biological parents as well as a lack of stimulation. Psychologist Bandura (1989) observed that children were able to learn from imitating others, however Becky was not in the correct environment to imitate or learn from as she was neglected (Bandura, 1989). Becky’s history of neglect, contributed negatively towards her speech and language development as she got older, as well as her joint attention. Field (2003) described a lexicon as “a systematic organisation of vocabulary that is stored in the mind in the form of individual lexical entries” (Field , 2003). Within our minds, there are lexical entries. In order to form strong lexical entries, the lexical items which contain the information that helps us distinguish certain words needs to be strong as well (Levelt, et al., 1999). Levelt identified ‘A lexical entry’ model. The model was split between ‘meaning’ and ‘form’. The ‘meaning’ section contains semantics and syntaxes, and involves how a person would use a word in a sentence. On the other hand, the ‘form’ section covers morphology and phonology, and encompasses how a person physically writes out the word (Levelt, et al., 1999).
Keenan et al (2016) defined syntax as “the study of rules for combining words into meaningful phrases and sentences (also known as grammar”, similarly Shaffer & Kipp (2002) described syntax as “the way in which humans come to understand meaningful sentence formation”, syntax is one of the components of how language is made up (Keenan, et al., 2016) (Shaffer & Kipp, 2002). Brooks & Kempe define joint attention as “the coordination of the infant’s attention with that of another person to some aspect of the world” (Brooks & Kempe, 2012). This precise definition highlights to us that Becky’s joint attention would have been low due to being neglected from her biological parents.
Furthermore due to Becky’s lack of stimulation in her early years, her lexical entries will be low. Keenan, et al (2016) note “2 year olds can learn a new word after only a single, brief exposure to it, a process which (Carey, 1978) refer to as fast-mapping” (Keenan, et al., 2016). This was reinforced later by Fenson et al (1994) who coined the phrase ‘naming explosion’ (Fenson, et al., 1994). This is during a child’s development at eighteen months, when they are exposed to an initial semantic development; which includes the child quickly learning new words. But as Becky was neglected at a young age, she missed the opportunity of learning new words and having her ‘naming explosion’ which resulted in her lexical items and entries being small. In order to increase Becky’s joint attention, as well as her lexicon, syntax and grammar, teachers at her school should be offering one-to-one reading alongside a teaching assistant so Becky has the opportunity to point things out in a book, as well as increase her lexicon so she can widen her vocabulary, also teaching staff should be speaking to Becky slowly so she can process the words easier.
At the age of three years old, Becky was referred to a speech and language therapist after her adoptive parents had concerns. Becky’s mother reported that she was experiencing more tantrums, was only using a few single words and was reluctant to communicate with others. After weeks of assessments, they confirmed that Becky had a delay of 12 months regarding her speech and language skills. She was also made to have a hearing test, which revealed that she had a mild hearing impairment. The NHS (2018) includes that children who may be suffering from hearing loss may; be slow to talk or their speech is not clear, they may not reply when you speak to them, or talk really loudly (NHS, 2018). After her diagnosis, Becky was made to wear hearing aids to help support with her hearing impairment even though it was mild, and her mother noticed a difference with Becky’s responses as her hearing was much stronger. The case study reports that Becky had slow articulatory transitions with frequent pauses; this is common amongst children who have a hearing impairment. It could be inferred that Becky’s impairment was caused by the lack of development in her environment, Keenan et al (2016) points out that “infants seem very well attuned to musical sounds. Newborn infants will increase their rate of sucking if they are rewarded with hearing musical sounds instead of noise”, whereas Aslin et al (1998) discovered that newborns prefer sounds that are similar to a human voice (Keenan, et al., 2016) (Aslin, et al., 1998). However in Becky’s environment she was not exposed to much human interaction from her biological parents or music, and this has contributed to her hearing impairment.
Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget developed the four stages of cognitive development. Within each stage, children would not be able to advance to the next stage unless they had completed the tasks that were in their current stage. The first stage is the sensorimotor stage which occurs within the first two years of a child’s life, next is the preoperational stage which takes place between two and seven years old, after follows the concrete operational stage during eight to ten years old, and the final stage is the formal operational stage which happens at 11 years old (Bates, 2016). According to Piaget’s theory, at the time of Becky’s assessment she should have been solidly in the second development stage – preoperational stage, however with Becky’s delay she is at the lower end of the pre-operational stage. Keenan et al (2016) explains that the preoperational stage is based upon “language, number, pictorial representation, spatial representations and pretend play” (Keenan, et al., 2016). It could be argued that Becky’s reluctance to communicate with other people, has contributed to her speech and language delay, as she has not been able to practice her language skills. Teaching staff at Becky’s school can help assist her with her speech and language skills by having a designated speech and language therapist within the school working alongside Becky, furthermore they can offer training to teachers so they can use Makaton (2017) signing as well as British Sign Language (The Makaton Charity, 2017) (British Sign Language, n.d.).
Sociolinguistics is language and society combined together, it includes how pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar vary amongst who you talk to, the situation you are, where you are from as well as the period of time you are talking in (Sociolinguistics, 2015). Becky’s sociolinguistics are affected by the situations she is in at school with her peers and teachers. Bandura & Walters (1963) cleverly point out that children learn more about society through peer interaction (Bandura & Walters, 1963). An example of this is during play time, when Becky is interacting with other children, but she does not fully understand the rules of the game. According to Keenan et al (2016) “children’s peer groups become larger and more diverse as children are brought into contact with new groups of peers” (Keenan, et al., 2016), this is not the case for Becky as when she joined school she struggled to settle in and socialise with other children. This has affected her language development as well as her social relationships. To aid with Becky’s sociolinguistic skills, teachers can offer one to one support with a teaching assistant for Becky to help boost her language development as well as confidence inside and outside the classroom, before placing her back into group work with the other students.
Language development could also be linked to the Theory of Mind. Astington et al (1988); Perner (1991); Wellman (1990) use the term ‘theory of mind’ as “the attribution of mental states to explain behaviour in both ourselves and other people” (Astington, et al., 1988) (Perner, 1991) (Wellman, 1990). Keenan et al (2016) further explain having a Theory of Mind as the contribution of beliefs, desires, intentions and emotions as well as “the child who has acquired a theory of mind is in a good position to deceive someone by making them think something that is false or to empathise with someone in order to comfort them”, children who display a ‘theory of mind’ can differentiate between the literal meaning and intended meaning of a sentence (Keenan, et al., 2016). Becky’s speech and language development being poor has affected her theory of mind; this is supported by Keenan & Harvey (1998) who write that significant developmental changes such as acquiring a theory of mind later than others can affect your social relationships and your ability to form friendships (Keenan & Harvey, 1998). Becky will not be able to fully express herself verbally, as well as cognitively comprehend the literal or figurative sentences her peers may say to her.
The National Curriculum clarify that Becky – as a six year old pupil in year one; “pupils should be taught to: listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers, maintain attention and participate actively in collaborative conversations, staying on topic and initiating and responding to comments” (DfE, 2013b ). To ensure Becky’s demands are being met, teachers can offer Becky’s parents inside and outside classroom resources that could increase Becky’s language and social development simultaneously. Resources such as; nurture groups, peer support with other children, and after school clubs can assist Becky with her linguistic skills and improve her social skills. The school are offering Becky the resources that she may not have access to when she is at home, as well as reinforcing the support she may receive when she is at home; this is shown through the specialist language team that the school referred Becky to.
There are many theorists, who have created and developed theories that can help contribute to improving Becky’s language development. Nativist theorist Chomsky (1957, 1968) believes that language was biological and innate within us, and he called this structure the language acquisition device whereas learning theorists such as Skinner (1957) and Bandura (1989) believe imitation and environment can assist in language development (Chomsky, 1957) (Chomsky, 1968) (Skinner, 1957) (Bandura, 1989). Furthermore, there are interactionist theorists such as Vygotsky; who are influenced by the biological side of nativist view and influenced by the social interaction of a learning theorist approach (Keenan, et al., 2016). It could be argued that the best theoretical approach to follow to improve Becky’s language development would be; an interactionist view.
To conclude this essay has discussed how speech and language has contributed towards Becky’s cognitive development, as well as how the lack of speech and language development has hindered her social development. Continued efforts are needed to make Maketon and British Sign Language more accessible to Becky to aid with her learning, this will require teaching staff to undergo courses so they are trained and they can assist Becky and any students who may be similar to her. Furthermore to ensure Becky is integrated within her peers, her class mates should be educated on her hearing impairment so they can help assist improving Becky’s language development.
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