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Human development is a universally relevant process that is particularly pertinent during childhood Robinson 2008. Evident individual differences result from inevitably complex, independent and environmental combinations (Damon and Lerner 2008). However, there are certain, clearly defined yet interrelated developmental milestones or capacities that 'typically developing' (TD) children will sequentially master within a specific time frame (Riddal- Leech 2005). Mary Sheridan's pioneering work provided a quantitative framework for assessing and measuring developmental milestones (Sheridan 1973) which are now heralded the essential benchmark for judging whether or not a child is developing typically (Riddal- Leech 2005). Developmental disorders are usually characterized by slow rates of development, either in a specific domain such as speech or language, or more generally (Hulme and Snowling 2009). A sound understanding of what constitutes TD therefore is essential to SaLT practice as, encapsulated by Hulme and Snowling's (2009) view, the only way to understand and recognise developmental delay is by relating it to features of typical development.
Introduction to the child
Accordingly, in order to gain a clearer understanding of some of the milestones that are typically met during middle childhood and with a particular focus on speech and language development, two recorded spoken interactions were held with a typically developing year 2 child. Under the class teacher's advice, Angus (pseudonym), who is aged 6; 4 was selected for observation and the spoken interaction, as progress profile, teacher assessments and National Curriculum level (1a for all core subjects) suggested an average rate of academic progression for his age (gov.uk 2012). His literacy level is also indicative of typical development as he fluently reads band 6 books which are recommended for 6- 6;5 year olds (Primary National Strategy 2006).
Angus does suffer from some confidence issues and these were immediately evident. Purely on a speculative level, this may be due to the fact that he has both older and younger siblings. There is some evidence to suggest that birth order can impact upon a child's personality. Gates, Linenberger, Crockett and Hubbard (1988) revealed in a large scale study of 7-12 year olds that first born children demonstrated significantly less trait anxiety and substantially higher levels of self- esteem compared to second and third borns. In contrast the majority of studies considering birth order and personality reviewed by Harris (2000) generated inconclusive results; However these studies used adult samples and are therefore unrepresentative of the middle childhood population.
Both recordings were held in a quiet room in Angus's primary school, located in South East England. When working with young children likewise with all service users it is essential that the ethical guidelines are stringently upheld. Therefore in accordance with the HCPC recommendations to respect and ensure confidentiality (HCPC 2012), pseudonyms are used throughout the orthographical transcriptions and within the analytical follow up. Furthermore, strictly no identifiable information is at any point given about the child to ensure and protect his safety and human rights. The HCPC ethical guidelines also stress the importance of gaining informed consent (HCPC 2012). Therefore, the recordings did not take place before the remit had been formally explained to Angus's parent and written consent had subsequently been obtained. Finally the Data Protection Act (2003) states that data must be protected from unauthorised access and that it must be disposed of securely when it is no longer needed. In keeping with these guidelines the recordings were solely accessible via authorised password control and were only stored for a short period of time, after which they were securely deleted.
Analysis of spoken interactions
The period from five to eleven is often considered to be a relatively quiet one developmentally as encapsulated by the Freudian term, 'latency stage' (Schofield 2006) and by the time children are 5-6 years old, most tend to be highly competent language users (Cole and Cole 1996; Mitchell and Zieglar 2007). Generally Angus's speech is representative of this and the spoken interaction demonstrates that he has a strong command over the main components of both speech and language.
Once children have acquired their first words typically around 12 months their lexical repertoire continues to dramatically expand (Herschenson 2007). The spoken interaction revealed that Angus's mean length of utterance (MLU), a measure of language productivity, was 5.26 and this indicates a typical lexicon for a developing 6 year old (Scheffner, Hammer, Yont and Tomblin 2005). Around 2 years old most children's language is 'telegraphic' in style as their short utterances lack important function words and morphological endings (Herschenson 2007). However as Cole and Cole (1996) state "between the ages 2-6, children begin to use a great many grammatical devices". Thus in accordance with typical development, the spoken interaction with Angus demonstrates that he has firmly moved away from the 'telegraphic stage' towards a complete and implicit knowledge of basic grammatical morphemes (Brown 1973) and an ability to create fluently adult-like and coherent utterances. In response to the question "what do you normally do on Christmas day?" Angus responded "I open all my presents and last year Jim (pseudonym) came round and we had Christmas pudding." This complex, multiple sentence holds abundant information concerning Angus' syntactical competence.
Firstly and perhaps most interestingly, is his correct application of the irregular past tense rule on the verb 'come '. Based on the pioneering work of Brown (1973), there is robust consensus that the 14 basic grammatical morphemes of English emerge in a fairly invariant order, with the establishment of the irregular past tense rule preceding the acquisition of the regular past tense '-ed'. Therefore, it is not uncommon that around the age of five there is a grammatical regression, as children begin to incorrectly overgeneralise the simple past suffix to irregular verbs they previously inflected correctly (Mitchell and Zieglar 2007). As is apparent with Angus however, children do eventually regain the irregular past tense rule (Herschensohn 2007). Evidence that Angus has acquired both the contracted copula "he's 7 or 8 months", and contracted auxiliary "one's called Gwyneth (pseudonym)", the last of "Browns 14" (Brown 1973) indicates not only that he has a typical and complete knowledge of the sequentially acquired morphemes, including possessives "at my granny's I do" but also that he cannot still be at the initial irregular past tense stage. However, despite the advanced nature of Angus' language use, we are reminded of his childlike tendencies through his sometimes variable omission of the auxiliary "I got a baby", which is also considered typical of young children (Grela and Leonard 2000).
Secondly, another indication of Angus's syntactical competence is his ability to assign the correct case to the subject pronoun. According to Crystal (1986), three year old children tend to confuse the subject and object case forms. This is reinforced by Vainikka (1993) who also mentions the improper use of genitive and accusative subjects in young English speaking children. However, Angus is able to clearly see the distinction due to his adult-like linguistic competency, and has correctly used the nominative case 'I' instead of the accusative case 'me' in the subject position of the sentence. Crystal (1986) also states that younger children frequently confuse pronouns expressing possession, however, as to be expected; Angus has also later correctly assigned the genitive case in 'my presents', thereby demonstrating a firm understanding of case assignment. This is consistent with typical development and demonstrates an inherent understanding of complex linguistic structures. Finally, (complex clause conjunction)
In the spoken interaction it was also noted that Angus demonstrates competence in the domain of figurative language, in utterances such as "his room's like a cave" and "he's a bit green like a dinosaur". He therefore, showcases a firm understanding that verbal similes require an alignment of parallels between two terms whilst recognising their categorical differences (Thomas et al 2010). His ability is consistent with the research of Vosnidau and Ortony (1983) who found that typically developing children as young as three were able to distinguish between meaningful similarities "A river is like a snake" compared to anomalous ones "A river is like a cat". Therefore, not only is Angus able to understand metaphorical language, which is considered to necessitate "certain degrees of proficiency in both cognition and language" (Thomas et al 2010) but he can also comfortably use figurative language in his own conversational speech. To summarise the spoken interaction suggests that in keeping with the general assumption that by 5-6 years old children are competent language users, Angus certainly seems to fit this mould.
Before children can begin to learn words, they must differentiate the significance of individual phonemes and approximate them in articulation (Herschenson 2007). Around 2 years old children often substitute and simplify fricatives, affricates and consonant clusters with vowels, nasals and plosives, e.g. children may say /maus/ instead of 'mouth' (Crystal 1986). However, as they mature, their speech becomes more accurate and they eventually add these consonants to their phonological repertoire (Dodd, Hauss, Hua and Crosbie 2003). In agreement with this phonological maturation, the spoken interaction reveals that Angus has acquired all the phonemes of English, including the notoriously difficult and late emerging affricates. This is exemplified word initially and word medially in his clear articulation of 'just' and 'crunched'. Furthermore, Angus is also capable of producing CCCV words such as 'strong'. This is consistent with Dodd, Hauss, Hua and Crosbie (2003) who conducted a 'clinically sensitive' large scale study and found that deaffrication and cluster reduction tends to resolve by 5;5 years.
Contrastingly however, earlier studies presented conflicting results, Prather (1995) found the age acquisition for the affricates of English to be earlier, between the ages 0f 3; 8 and 4 years whereas Smit (1990) found that boys acquired these phonemes much later, by around 7 years. These differences are most likely due to variations in sample size, age range and the criteria used however ,the fact that Angus has already acquired his affricates gives further credence to the Dodd, Hauss, Hua and Crosbie (2003) study which also used the largest sample of children and the widest age range. There is a general consensus however, across all three studies that the dental fricatives are acquired last in English speaking children. Although, Angus demonstrates some dialectal substitutions in e.g. " " he is perfectly capable of articulating these late emerging phonemes " " .This is actually inconsistent with the Dodd et al (2003) study who found that the dental fricatives aren't perfected until after the age of 7. Regardless, the fact that Angus has acquired the full range of English phonemes demonstrates that his speech has developed at a rate appropriate for his age.
There is some evidence to suggest that the seemingly universal regularities in the sequence of phoneme acquisition (Locke 1983) are due to the development of progressively autonomous control over the articulatory structures (MacNeilage and Davis 1990). Green, Moore, Higashikawa and Steeve (2000) conducted a study in which the coordination of articulatory gestures of infants, 6 year old children and adults were compared. The participants were required to realise 'baba', 'papa' and 'mama' with the stress placed on the first syllable of each utterance. It was found that there is a dramatic shift in the control and coordination in the first several years of life which continues to be refined after the age of 6. Angus's capacity to realise all the phonemes of English therefore, may be due to the acquisition of fully independent control over his vocal tract which is not permitted in the earlier years. In summary,
Children require much more than grammar and vocabulary to hold a successful conversation (Mitchell and Zieglar 2007). In terms of pragmatic skills, particularly in the recorded spoken interactions, Angus (6; 4, pseudonym) rarely spoke spontaneously and required incessant open ended questioning to create and essence of conversational fluidity (Appendix 1). Although there is a strong assumption that this may be due to his evident shyness, research suggests that his lack of monological speech may in fact be a shift away from the Piagetian concept of 'egocentrism' that empirically seems to begin around the age of 5-6 (Piaget and Inhelder 1969). Piaget noted that often young children will give a running commentary about something they find of interest without taking into account the communicative requirements of their listener (Mitchell and Zieglar 2007). Angus's tentative yet germane responses may therefore be evidence of a developing, mature sensitivity to the structure of adult-like conversation, in which monologues are not socially acceptable.
The spoken interaction, offers further evidence that Angus is transitioning out of this 'egocentric phase'. Another facet of 'egocentrism' is that young children will omit information that is vital for the listener's comprehension (Mitchell and Zieglar 2007). Krauss and Glucksberg (1969) constructed a block description game for 5-10 year olds and observed a substantial difference in the description abilities of children above and below the age of 6. The older children were able to give enough specific information about an abstract pattern on a block that it was easily identifiable to their listener. In contrast younger children were only capable of idiosyncratic descriptions such as 'daddy's shirt'. When Angus was asked to describe his 'Yoshi' he was able to provide specific information "He's a bit green like a dinosaur" this is consistent with both Piaget (1967) and Krauss and Glucksberg (1969) and suggests that Angus, is typically developing a sense of the conversational needs of his listener.
Other developmental milestones
https://www.gov.uk/national-curriculum/overview [acessed on 1 december 2012]