QUALITY OF LANGUAGE IN DISCOURSE DURING TABLET AND TRADITIONAL PLAY
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Background: Children with specific language impairment (SLI) form a large part of the caseload of speech and language therapists. Speech and language therapists often use play in their language interventions. Tablet games have entered the therapy room, because they appeal to children and might offer opportunities to stimulate language development at home. Still, little is known about the effect of tablet games on syntax and word use during discourse in children with SLI. Aim and research question(s): The current study aims to assess whether there is a difference in syntactic complexity and word use in dialogues of children with SLI, during play with tablet games compared to real objects. Method: In this observational study, with a within subjects experimental design, 16 participants with SLI, aged 4;00-6;11 years old, alternately played with wooden blocks and a tablet game, simulating a block building activity, during four weekly play sessions. Their conversations were recorded, transcribed and analysed afterwards. Results: No difference was found in mean length of utterance between tablet play and real block play. Participants on average used significantly more different words during real block play. Overall, they used more words during real block play, but this difference was not significant. Conclusion: This study indicates there seems to be no difference in syntactic complexity in children with specific language impairment, in the age of 4;00-6;11 years, during free play with tablet games and real objects. However, these children do use significantly more different words during play with real objects compared to play with a tablet game. Recommendations: For clinical practice this implies that, for word learning, it is preferred that teachers and parents offer real objects over tablet games to SLI children during free play with their peers.