Etiologies of Language and Literacy Laboratory
The overall goal of the Etiologies of Language and Literacy Laboratory is to understand how our genes and environment influence language and literacy development so that we can help develop early identification methods for children at risk of language and literacy disorders.
What do we study?
Although language development may seem to be a fairly simple process that everyone goes through, it is actually very complicated and involves a combination of neurobiological processes and experiences. Our genes, brain, and environment interact to shape our language and literacy skills.
We explore the skills required for and the connections between speech, language and reading. Speech is the ability to produce meaningful sounds. Language helps us produce and understand sentences and conversation. Reading is understanding written information, like this website!
We also explore the role that genetics and a child's environment play in speech, language and reading development. Problems in these areas of development tend to run in families, strongly implying a genetic influence, but genes don't explain things entirely. Several environmental influences, such as exposure to books, for example, influence reading ability. Relationships between the three domains of genetics, neurobiology and environment are reciprocal, although we don't completely understand how they interact.
Therefore, we collaborate with researchers from a broad range of backgrounds and use interdisciplinary methods to understand these connections and reciprocal relationships.
Who do we study?
Our investigations involve both children and adults. For example, we study children and adults with
Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). DLD affects people's ability to learn language and creates challenges with grammar and vocabulary. These resources can help you learn more about DLD
We also study people with
reading disabilities, which include
dyslexia. People with reading disabilities struggle to learn how to map sounds and extract meaning from paragraphs. These issues can be very detrimental in the academic environment. If you're interested in learning more about reading disabilities, the following resources are useful
Another group we are interested in is children and adults with
cleft lip and/or palate. Cleft lip and/or palate, as well as other
craniofacial conditions, affect the development of speech mechanisms, including the top of the mouth (hard and soft palate), lips, jaw, and nasal connections. These conditions have impacts on speech development, as well as
language and reading. Therefore, people with craniofacial conditions are at risk for problems with language and reading. To learn more, consult
Why do we study these topics?
Speech, language, and reading are some of the most important human skills. For example, if you want to do well in school, play with somebody, get a job or manage your emotions, you need good language skills.
Deficits in speech and/or language lead to poor academic skills, poor social relationships, mental health issues, and negatively affect job attainment. Furthermore, children with language deficits are far more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system. Language skills affect how we function in society. Understanding the biology, neuropsychology and environmental factors that contribute to language and reading problems can help us identify children that need extra attention and enable us to give them the type of attention they need to help them function well and be happy, productive members of society.
In order to maximize the number and diversity of participants and thus the impact of our research, we are developing an online tool to measure speech, language and reading skills in adults. Soon, there will be an opportunity to participate in the development of our online tool and its use in upcoming studies.
Our Research Team
Hope Sparks Lancaster is the Director of the Etiologies of Language and Literacy Laboratory in the Center for Childhood Deafness, Language and Learning at Boys Town National Research Hospital. Dr. Lancaster studies language and literacy development and disorders and is particularly interested in behavioral and genetic overlaps between speech disorders, developmental language disorder, and dyslexia. She also studies language and literacy development in individuals with other conditions, such as cleft palate.
Favorite book(s): American Gods, Green Rider
Mia Haschenburger is the Manager of the Etiologies of Language and Literacy Laboratory. She earned her Ph.D. and M.S. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her B.Sc. at McGill University. Her responsibilities include research coordination, laboratory operations, as well as contributing to manuscript and research grant proposal preparation.
Favorite book(s): The Warlord Chronicles