The ASU CHILLL Lab studies language development in children and the science of implementation

The ASU CHILLL Lab studies language development in children and the science of implementation

The Child Language and Literacy Lab at Arizona State University offers ongoing opportunities in language development to both children in need of services and the developmental professionals who help them.

Shelley Gray, a professor in the College of Health Solutions and the lab’s principal investigator, founded the CHILLL Lab 22 years ago.

“Oral language is the foundation of everything we do in life,” Gray said. “Now it’s the foundation of your social relationships, and your future literacy skills. The way we preserve knowledge across generations is by being able to talk to each other.”

This is where language development becomes a critical area, because difficulties in language become difficulties in most other aspects of life, including school, work, and even receiving health care.

Some of their current projects include a longitudinal study that followed a group’s reading development for 13 years and an ongoing study into the importance of working memory in language development.

“(Working memory) is the memory you use when you receive information from all your different senses and you have to keep it in mind,” Gray said. “You understand it and then you store it. It’s a really strong indicator of learning across the board, and we want to improve learning for kids, especially kids with disabilities.”

Mariana Silva, a graduate student in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences who conducts research through the CHILLL lab, highlighted the opportunities the lab provides for student researchers.

“We are looking at how exercise can help children acquire vocabulary,” Silva said. “For the exercise and vocabulary (study), if anyone is interested, please contact me. We would love to host you and include you in our study.”

The CHILLL Lab also uses its studies to produce curriculum before creating further studies to ensure that the curriculum can be successfully published. This process is called implementation science, and it is one of the lab’s core areas of focus.

The lab also includes a translation team to connect research to the community, which is a broader practice for the College of Health Solutions. The CHILLL laboratory team includes two main wings, the ECHO program and the Dyslexia Screening Questionnaire.

The ECHO project aims to provide new research and training to underserved populations through specialists in childhood development. Cary Taylor is currently the ECHO Project Coordinator for CHILLL Laboratory.

“In Arizona, we face the challenge of ensuring that all families have access to high-quality early childhood programs,” Taylor said. “Our initiative under ECHO was to help provide evidence-based information that comes from some laboratory studies and other areas of development to teachers in those underserved communities.”

The project works by recruiting development professionals, such as teachers, speech pathologists and healthcare professionals, and creating training materials for the collective profession based on their needs.

“We are always recruiting members to be part of our co-op, and the co-op is really what drives the trainings we offer,” Taylor said. “We use state-level data, and everything is (driven) by data to point to professional development needs in Arizona.”

The other wing of the translation team is the Dyslexia Screening Questionnaire. Dyslexia is a complex learning disorder that affects the ability to identify speech sounds and how words are formed.

RJ Risueño is a doctoral student in the Speech and Hearing Sciences program and a research assistant in the CHILLL laboratory working on a dyslexia screening program.

“I see this as a health equity issue,” Resueno said. “Often, children are diagnosed with dyslexia when it is too late for effective intervention, because you have well-intentioned teachers who think the kids will catch up.”

The lab’s dyslexia screening questionnaire aims to screen children for dyslexia and diagnose them at age six, which is when children already go to the doctor for a six-year health checkup, according to Resueno.

The screening program is being conducted in collaboration with Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Valleywise Health. It is just one of a range of tools available to parents and children if there are concerns about a child’s language development.

“If you have concerns about your child’s development, don’t wait. You can always raise these concerns with your pediatrician,” Gray said. “Go to the state of Arizona’s website and they have information about developmental stages and who to contact. If you’re concerned, you can also call your local school district and say ‘I’m concerned,’ even if it’s a young child.”

The CHILLL Lab at Arizona State University not only studies the evolution of language, it examines how to put useful practices into the hands of those who need them most and gives researchers and professionals opportunities to learn with them.

Edited by River Graziano, Sadie Bogle, and Kyra Learmonth.


Contact and follow the reporter at syramir2@asu.edu @nerdyoso On X.

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