Novel word learning in children at family risk for dyslexia

Kalashnikova, M. 1, 2 , Goswami, U. . 3 & Burnham, D. 2

1 Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language
2 Western Sydney University
3 University of Cambridge

In addition to difficulties in reading and spelling, developmental dyslexia is characterized by deficits in auditory and phonological processing. These deficits can impact the development of language abilities in at-risk children years before they start learning to read. One of these abilities is early word learning. To date, word-learning difficulties have been documented in school-aged children with dyslexia, but little is known about their earlier manifestation in at-risk children.

Here, we investigated word-learning skills in children at family risk for dyslexia and age-matched controls at two ages, associated with significant vocabulary growth (19 months) and development of phonological processing (4 years). Children completed age-appropriate word-learning paradigms (a looking while listening fast-mapping task at 19 months and a paired associate learning task at 4 years) in which they were required to establish and recognize mappings between novel words and novel visual referents. Our results demonstrated that toddlers and preschool children at-risk for dyslexia showed differences in the process of establishing novel word-referent mappings compared to their not at-risk peers. These findings will be discussed in relation to later phonological development and vocabulary growth in children at family risk for later dyslexia.