Authors: Ebbels SH, Marić N, Murphy A, Turner G
Title: Improving comprehension in adolescents with severe receptive language impairments: a randomized control trial of intervention for coordinating conjunctions
Source: International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders 2014 49(1): 30-48
Year: 2014
Research Design: Randomised Controlled Trial
Rating Score: 06/10
This rating is confirmed
Eligibility specified - Y
Random allocation - Y
Concealed allocation - N
Baseline comparability - Y
Blind subjects - N
Blind therapists - N
Blind assessors - Y
Adequate follow-up - Y
Intention-to-treat analysis - N
Between-group comparisons - Y
Point estimates and variability - Y

Background: Little evidence exists for the effectiveness of therapy for children with receptive language difficulties, particularly those whose difficulties are severe and persistent. Aims: To establish the effectiveness of explicit speech and language therapy with visual support for secondary school-aged children with language impairments focusing on comprehension of coordinating conjunctions in a randomized control trial with an assessor blind to group status. Methods & Procedures: Fourteen participants (aged 11;3–16;1) with severe RELI (mean standard scores: CELF4 ELS = 48, CELF4 RLS = 53 and TROG-2 = 57), but higher non-verbal (Matrices = 83) and visual perceptual skills (Test of Visual Perceptual Skills (TVPS) = 86) were randomly assigned to two groups: therapy versus waiting controls. In Phase 1, the therapy group received eight 30-min individual sessions of explicit teaching with visual support (Shape Coding) with their usual SLT. In Phase 2, the waiting controls received the same therapy. The participants’ comprehension was tested pre-, post-Phase 1 and post-Phase 2 therapy on (1) a specific test of the targeted conjunctions, (2) the TROG-2 and (3) a test of passives. Outcomes & Results: After Phase 1, the therapy group showed significantly more progress than the waiting controls on the targeted conjunctions (d = 1.6) and overall TROG-2 standard score (d = 1.4). The two groups did not differ on the passives test. After Phase 2, the waiting controls made similar progress to those in the original therapy group, who maintained their previous progress. Neither group showed progress on passives. When the two groups were combined, significant progress was found on the specific conjunctions (d = 1.3) and TROG-2 raw (d = 1.1) and standard scores (d = 0.9). Correlations showed no measures taken (including Matrices and TVPS) correlated significantly with progress on the targeted conjunctions or the TROG-2. Conclusions & Implications: Four hours of Shape Coding therapy led to significant gains on comprehension of coordinating conjunctions which were maintained after 4 months. Given the significant progress at a group level and the lack of reliable predictors of progress, this approach could be offered to other children with similar difficulties to the participants. However, the intervention was delivered one-to-one by speech and language therapists, thus the effectiveness of this therapy method with other methods of delivery remains to be evaluated.

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