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Early Language Development of Children with a History of Institutionalization: from Behavior to Psychophysiology

Scientific organization
Saint-Petersburg State University
Academic degree
PhD student
Scientific discipline
Life Sciences & Medicine
Early Language Development of Children with a History of Institutionalization: from Behavior to Psychophysiology
The study focuses on neurophysiological and behavioral aspects of language development in children who are left without parental care and reside in institutions. Institutional settings are characterized by moderate to low quality of caregiving, therefore children are exposed to psychosocial deprivation that effects developmental trajectories in the variety of domains.
language development, psychosocial deprivation, institutionalization, psychophysiology of language

Children left without parental care who are reared in institutional care have recently been shown to demonstrate an array of deficits and delays with respect to cognitive (Rutter, 2000; van IJzendoorn & Juffer, 2005) as well as social-emotional development (Bakermans-Kranenburg et al., 2012; Zeanah, et al., 2005). However, only few studies directly examined early communicative and language development of institutionalized children (IC). The existing body of research suggests that language development of IC children significantly lags behind that of their age peers raised in biological families (Windsor et al., 2011; Windsor, Moraru, Nelson, Fox, & Zeanah, 2013; Loman, 2009). Neuroimaging studied showed that IC children display reduced cortical volume (Chugani et al., 2001), white matter abnormalities (McLaughlin, et al., 2014) and atypical patterns of brain activity (Marshall, Reeb, Fox, 2008). Importantly, the neurophysiological aspects of language functioning have never been directly studied in this population of children, and most of the published behavioral studies focused on children aged 30 months and above, thus providing little information about earlier developmental stages.

In a set of empirical studies conducted by the Laboratory of Translational Sciences of Early Childhood at Saint-Petersburg State University, we are aiming to address these gaps in the literature by collecting complimentary datasets of behavioral and psychophysiological measures of language development in young IC children. During the talk, we will present an overview of the linguistic and neurophysiological parts of the project and present preliminary results illuminating significant language delays in young IC children, manifesting in both behavior (measured through CDI and PLS-5) and atypical neural responses (i.e., N400) to linguistic stimuli.  We hypothesize that these delays and deficits can be linked to the suboptimal quality of early care and properties of the linguistic environment (e.g., insufficient quantity or quality of linguistic input) that these children are exposed to in their early lives.