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Processing Limitations in Children With Specific Language Impairment: The Role of Executive Function


  • The research was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship to N. Im-Bolter, an SSHRC research Grant (410-2001-1077) awarded to J. Pascual-Leone and J. Johnson, and a York University Faculty of Arts research grant awarded to J. Johnson.
    We thank S. Bauer and C. Lee for assistance with data collection, T. Zaragoza, S. Bauer, and A. Agostino for assistance with data scoring, M. Barnes for providing the n-back task, N. Cepeda for providing the set-shifting task, and S. Hitzig for programming the antisaccade task. We also thank the students, parents, and staff of the participating schools. We are grateful to Judith Johnston for her helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article. This paper was based on Nancie Im-Bolter's doctoral dissertation submitted to the Department of Psychology at York University, Toronto, Ontario. Portions of this research have been presented at the 2004 Annual Symposium on Research in Child Language Disorders, Madison, WI.

concerning this article should be addressed to Nancie Im-Bolter, Department of Psychology, Trent University, Otonabee College, Peterborough, ON, Canada K9J 7B8. Electronic mail may be sent to


Research suggests that children with specific language impairment (SLI) have processing limitations; however, the mechanisms involved have not been well defined or investigated in a theory-guided manner. The theory of constructive operators was used as a framework to explore processes underlying limited processing capacity in children with SLI. Mental attentional capacity, mental attentional interruption, and 2 specific executive functions (shifting and updating) were examined in 45 children with SLI and 45 children with normally developing language, aged 7 to 12 years. The results revealed overall group differences in performance on measures of mental attention, interruption, and updating, but not shifting. The findings supported the premise that mental attention predicted language competence, but that this relationship was mediated partially by updating.