Easy Diagnosis of Language-Processing Problems

Researchers have learned that language disorders may be detected by measuring a child's brain waves as he or she listens to spoken language.

Wednesday June 1st - 3:00pm

Language-processing problems may soon be easier to diagnose, thanks to research conducted recently at Northwestern University. Researchers found that it is possible to detect these problems by measuring a child's brain waves as he or she listens to spoken language.

"What's compelling is that we can actually see the neural response from the brain stem to a given acoustic signal," said Nina Kraus, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern, who led the research. Nearly a third of the children with language disorders she has studied showed a "jitter" in the translation of language-related sound waves to brain waves.

Kraus hopes to develop a simple device for detecting language problems. The device would use electrodes to analyze brain waves as a child listens to sounds, without any need for active participation by the child. "We don't have to ask our subjects to follow any directions or engage them in specific tasks," said Kraus. "We simply measure an automatic function of the nervous system while a child watches TV."

Kraus published her findings in the April 2005 issue of Trends in Neurosciences.

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