KU researchers study baby talk

Baby playing with blocks
One-year-old Ellie participating in KU Baby Lab research study.

OVERLAND PARK (KSNT) – University of Kansas researchers are working to better understand child language development.

KU Baby Lab researcher and clinical psychologist Brenda Salley has spent the last year studying babies ages 6, 8, 10 or 12 months old.

“We’re really interested in how babies are communicating before they have words,” said Salley.

She has babies play with toys and their parents. By watching babies interact with their surroundings, Salley can learn how children communicate and develop language.

Salley said, “Babies will look at the toy and they’ll look back at us to say, ‘Wow! That was really cool!’ And they can’t say that with words so they do that with their eye contact and their gestures.”

Salley also has babies watch movie clips to test their attention span. She tracks their eye movement and heart rate.

“Heart rate slows down when we’re in very focused attention so we can know if babies are really paying attention and learning from what we’re showing them on a screen.”

She hopes the results will help parents and pediatricians identify delays or challenges in language development.

“Young children who get very good and very early intervention services are most likely to have the best outcomes,” said Salley. “And it’s critical for us to be able to identify those children who need those early intervention services.”

Salley is still in phase one of the five-year study. That phase lasts two years. Right now, she’s¬†working to gather general information about child attention and communication.

Phase two is a three-year, longitudinal study that follows a group of children through stages of development.

If you are interested in having your child participate in the study, call Brenda Salley at the Life Span Institute at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus. The number is 913-897-8590.

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