kitchen table math, the sequel: Mooping the lady (& children with ADHD)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mooping the lady (& children with ADHD)

Two-year olds can tell the difference between "the lady mooped my brother" and "the lady and my brother mooped!" (pdf file)

I love that.

Meanwhile, people with Parkinson's can have trouble understanding sentences like:
"The king that is pulled by the cook is short." (pdf file)
The words "That is pulled by the cook" are a "center-embedded" relative clause.

I'm intrigued by the Parkinson's research because Parkinson's and ADHD both involve dopamine deficits and problems in "set-shifting"— and impaired set-shifting appears to be the stumbling block for Parkinson's patients reading about the king and the cook. All of a sudden, mid-sentence, they have to shift off their expectation that what they are reading is a standard Subject-Verb-Object affair. That's where they stumble.

Do kids with ADHD also have trouble reading such sentences?

I wonder.

I gave Arthur Whimbey's zoonoses test to my class two weeks ago. Around 40% of my students got the answer wrong, which is what I've seen in my other classes.

Assuming I'm reading (make that skimming) the Parkinson's article right, the answer for ADHD kids having trouble with center-embedded relative clauses would presumably be to give them lots of practice reading sentences with center-embedded relative clauses.

On the other hand, I can also imagine practice with center-embedded relative clauses making it more difficult for kids with ADHD to read any sentence....?

Is there research on this?

Lingua Links: What is a relative clause?


Katharine Beals said...

Interesting coincidence! My students just read the original Gleitman and Gleitman article (their experiment used "biffed" rather than "mooped").

I also had them read a potentially relevant article about working memory deficits and object relative clauses, as in "The reporter that attacked the senator admitted the error," which low-span readers tend to misinterpret. Do ADD/ADHD readers have working memory problems?

The article is "Individual Differences in Syntactic Processing: The Role of Working Memory" (Jonathan King and Marcel Just).

And as I write the authors' names I'm only now remembering that Jonathan King is probably the same guy who was a Russian chorus-mate of my husband's back in college!

Debbie Stier said...

Catherine -- If you need children to do studies on, I know a few you can experiment with.

Jen said...

Shouldn't it be the king WHO or the reporter WHO? Or am I missing some other reason for a "that" there?

Katharine Beals said...

I believe they're trying to bypass the whole who/whom issue (which might bias certain listeners towards particular interpretations).

The other sentence type, also tested, was "The reporter that the senator attached admitted the error," --and, now that I'm looking this over more carefully, I'm realizing that it was this sentence that was actually the more problematic object-relative construction.

Hainish said...

"Do ADD/ADHD readers have working memory problems?"

We (well, I) have executive dysfunction.

Staying focused on an interesting book, and tuning out anything or anyone else, is extremely easy for me to do.

Closing the book, or realizing that other things require my attention, is extremely hard.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hainish - interesting.

I came across an article on ADHD & executive function today that I **think** found that all the various EF dysfunctions people think ADHD involves washed out when they controlled for various other things...

That was a big surprise. I've spent years now thinking EF problems, including working memory problems, are part of ADHD.

Catherine Johnson said...

Katharine! We have to talk! I gotta get the article on relative clauses & WM....

I also found what I think is a terrific short series of handouts for college students on the question of why academic writing is hard to read.

Haven't read them myself yet, but one of the big factors is HUGE "nominalisations," i.e. extremely long subjects.

Katharine Beals said...

Yes, let's talk! I can totally believe the nominalization issue. Esp. as I'm collecting student sentences and seeing the flip-side: the avoidance of even slightly complex subjects. The typical strategy is to factor out the complex subjects, replace them with "it," and put them in sentential modifiers at the front. So we get:

In Happe’s article it says that this deficit is due to...

rather than:
Happe's article says that this deficit is due to...


Due to the fact that children with autism are unable to properly engage in social situations it eliminates the knowledge base that they would normally acquire

rather than:
The fact that children with autism are unable to properly engage in social situations eliminates the knowledge base that they would normally acquire

Catherine Johnson said...

follow-up - read an article this morning that showed ADHD students basically being able to read sentences at the same level as non-ADHD students.

The researchers did **not** find a difference between ADHD & typical kids' ability to 'inhibit' a prior interpretation of a sentence that proves to be wrong, which I assume is the same ability as that involved in 'set-shifting.'