Stanford/Packard Study Of Language Development Needs Toddlers, Parents

-- What: Scientists at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital 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


About Stanford Children’s Health and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford

Stanford 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. As a top-ranked children’s hospital by U.S. News & World Report, we are a leader in providing world-class, nurturing care and achieving extraordinary outcomes in every pediatric and obstetric specialty. Stanford Children’s Health provides everything from specialty care to general pediatrics and can be accessed through more than 60 locations across Northern California and 100 locations in the U.S. western region. As the pediatric and obstetric teaching hospital for the world-renowned Stanford University School of Medicine, we’re cultivating the next generation of medical professionals and are at the forefront of scientific research to improve children’s 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


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