Musical rhythms can help kids overcome speaking and language difficulties
Developmental language disorder is a permanent condition that shows up in childhood, causing difficulties with speaking and comprehension. A new study has found that children with the disorder may benefit from listening to regular musical rhythms.
Around 7% of the population has developmental language disorder (DLD), a condition that’s 50 times more prevalent than hearing impairment and five times more prevalent than autism. The term "developmental" refers to the fact that the disorder is present from childhood and is not an acquired condition.
Children with DLD may find it difficult to understand words, follow instructions or answer questions, struggle to find the words to express ideas or speak words in the correct order, have difficulty paying attention, find reading and writing challenging, and struggle to remember what they’ve been told. In the long term, this can negatively impact school and social life.
A new study led by Western Sydney University examined whether listening to regular musical rhythms helped children with DLD improve sentence repetition, something they would ordinarily struggle with.
Previous studies have shown a strong connection between the regions in the brain that process language and music and that similarities between music and language concerning syntax, rhythm and auditory processing suggest there’s the potential for a transfer effect between the two.
The researchers recruited French-speaking children aged five to 13, 15 with DLD and 18 without the condition. The children listened to regular or irregular rhythms for 30 seconds, followed by sets of six sentences. After listening to each sentence, they were asked to repeat it as accurately as possible. A control task was run where the children listened to regular or irregular rhythms before performing a visual task, crossing out as many animals as possible in a given time.
The regular rhythms used by the researchers were in 4/4 time at 120 beats per minute. Irregular rhythms were scrambled, meaning the children couldn't extract a beat. Examples of the regular and irregular rhythms used in the study can be found here.
“We found that across all of the children – including those with language problems – the sentences were better able to be repeated out loud after the children had heard the regular musical rhythms compared to the irregular musical rhythms,” said Anna Fiveash, lead author of the study. “This finding that regular rhythms can boost sentence repetition is striking, considering that children with developmental language disorder have particular difficulty in repeating sentences out loud, especially when they are grammatically complex.”
The researchers found no difference in performance on the control task, suggesting that the benefit provided by regular musical rhythm was specific to language and not visual tasks. They say their study supports the hypothesis that the brain possesses shared mechanisms for processing rhythm and grammar.
DLD is diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist trained to assess and treat people with speech and language problems. The researchers say their findings suggest that rhythmic music is a promising tool that could be incorporated into speech therapy.
“Limitations in language processing in children with DLD can result in a struggle to understand their peers, teachers, and parents, making it difficult to efficiently express thoughts, which can lead to lifelong consequences in individuals’ academic and social lives,” said Enikö Ladányi, a corresponding author of the study. “Effective speech-language therapy is essential to mitigate these consequences to improve developmental outcomes for children, and our latest findings could help supplement and improve current speech therapy guidelines and practices.”
The study was published in the journal NPJ Science of Learning.
Source: Western Sydney University