Speech pathologists are using cutting-edge neuroimaging technology to explore the way children’s brains are able to re-organise themselves to control speech and language after sustaining an injury.
Dr Angela Morgan from the Murdoch Childrens is presenting these findings at Speech Pathology Australia’s National Conference in Hobart this week.
“Speech is mainly controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain, however children’s brains have the capacity to switch this control to the right hemisphere if the left is damaged,” Angela said.
“Different conditions affect different parts of the brain – for example, stroke is associated with highly localised lesions, while traumatic brain injury is typically associated with more widespread brain damage.”
“New neuroimaging techniques allow us to look at brain function and brain connectivity, or “wiring”, from magnetic resonance imaging scans, meaning we are now able to detect very subtle microstructural changes in the brain that have never been seen before.”
These new techniques provide a first look at the way children’s brains are able to re-organise themselves to compensate for damage caused by conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury and in cases where there is a known genetic cause for the speech disorder that alters the typical pattern of brain control for speaking.
“Since beginning this research, we’ve found that while damage sustained to only one side of the brain may be more likely to compensate for their injury and have better speech and language outcomes, damage to both hemispheres of the brain seems to result in less ‘room to move’ in terms of being able to re-organise brain function to the opposite and healthy side of the brain, and we often see poorer or more severe speech conditions in those cases,” Angela said.
She hopes that this research will shed more light on why some children acquire speech and language difficulties after sustaining damage to their brain and others don’t.
“These new techniques give us the opportunity to identify and understand markers in the brain that will predict who is likely to have speech difficulties after injury. It is important to identify these children early so they are prioritized for intervention and receive all the assistance they need.”