Stanford/Packard Study Of Language Development Needs Toddlers, Parents

For Release: May 10, 2011

STANFORD, Calif.  What: Scientists at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford and Stanford University are recruiting parents and toddlers to study the effect of premature birth on language development.

Who: Toddlers aged 18-24 months whose first language is either English or Spanish and their parents are invited to participate. The study is recruiting toddlers born prematurely before 32 weeks of gestation and toddlers born full-term after at least 37 weeks of pregnancy. Parent-child pairs participate in each study session.

Why: Children born prematurely tend to develop language skills more slowly than their peers. Challenges in language use and later in reading may persist into the teen years and beyond. By comparing language development from age 18 months to 4 years old in preterm and full-term children, the research team hopes to find early markers to identify which children are at greatest risk for long-term language problems. They also want to understand why these delays occur more frequently in children born prematurely. In future studies, they plan to develop ways to intervene at young ages to help children at risk for long-term delays.

When and where: The study tests language comprehension in each child volunteer at 18, 24, 30 and 36 months and at 4 years of age. Study testing takes place in a psychology laboratory on the main Stanford campus or at a satellite location in Sunnyvale.  Heidi Feldman, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine and a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, and Anne Fernald, PhD, associate professor of psychology, are co-leading the study.

How: The scientists use hidden cameras to track children’s eye movements in response to questions about pictures on a computer monitor. For instance, a child is shown a picture of a dog and a cat, and asked, “Where is the dog?” The cameras record whether the child looks at the dog.

“What’s really exciting is that this method doesn’t require the child to do a lot of talking,” Feldman said. “If the child understands spoken language, we can include him or her in the study.” Fernald has used this method in children born full term and found that early performance predicts later skills.

For more information or to sign up, parents should call (650) 723-1257 or email Laura Barde at


Erin Digitale
(650) 724-9175

About Stanford Medicine Children's Health

Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford at its center, is the Bay Area’s largest health care system exclusively dedicated to children and expectant mothers. Our network of care includes more than 65 locations across Northern California and more than 85 locations in the U.S. Western region. Along with Stanford Health Care and the Stanford School of Medicine, we are part of Stanford Medicine, an ecosystem harnessing the potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education, and clinical care to improve health outcomes around the world. We are a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the community through meaningful outreach programs and services and providing necessary medical care to families, regardless of their ability to pay. Discover more at