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S1_AJSLP-23-00038Balthazar.pdf (649.1 kB)

Helping school-age children and adolescents build sentence skills (Balthazar & Scott, 2023)

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posted on 2023-08-29, 21:07 authored by Catherine H. Balthazar, Cheryl M. Scott

Purpose: In this article, we present key concepts pointing to the importance of targeting complex sentences for school-age children and adolescents with developmental language disorders (DLD). Drawing on current treatment research, we argue that the sentence is a crucial but often neglected piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding relationships between DLD and academic outcomes. We provide detailed suggestions for how clinicians can focus on complex sentence structures in natural academic contexts to bridge this gap.

Method: Background information on sentence complexity is presented, along with a rationale for targeting complex sentences with school-age children and adolescents with DLD. Intervention methods from a variety of studies targeting multiclausal sentences are discussed in relation to current accounts of language learning and language processing models. We provide a robust catalog of suggested strategies for targeting sentence complexity in a manner that is aligned with research findings to date and integrated into real academic contexts.

Conclusions: Complex sentence structures are a key challenge for students with DLD as they tackle discipline-specific language and academic tasks. Sentence complexity treatment programs employ one or more treatment methods including priming, modeling, recasting, contextualization, metalinguistic instruction, and sentence combining. While studies have consistently shown a measurable improvement in complex sentence production on proximal outcomes regardless of treatment approach, evidence of durable, functional changes for students with DLD remains sparse. We encourage new treatments that target comprehension and production of complex sentences in real-life academic contexts in clinical practice and research.

Supplemental Material S1. Summary of sentence complexity intervention methods found in studies targeting multiclausal sentences for school-age children and adolescents with developmental language disorder.

Balthazar, C. H., & Scott, C. M. (2023). Sentences are key: Helping school-age children and adolescents build sentence skills needed for real language. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 33(2), 564–579.

Publisher Note: This article is part of the Forum: Developmental Language Disorders Intervention.


The Complex Sentence Intervention treatment protocol (Balthazar & Scott, 2018) was developed with the support of Grant 1R15011165 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders (NIDCD), awarded to Catherine H. Balthazar and Cheryl M. Scott.