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Computer games specifically designed to help children understand speech and use language boost users' language skills significantly, researchers have found.

The researchers expect their findings, outlined in the Jan. 5 issue of Science, to help remedy language impairments that send millions of children to special education. The findings may also be relevant to children with the reading disorder dyslexia, the authors contend.

A total of 30 children between the ages of 5 and 10 took part in studies led by Paula Tallal, a co-director of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J. The children had normal intelligence but severely impaired language skills.

Many researchers believe such learning difficulties are the result of a neurological dysfunction that hinders the brain's ability to process rapidly presented sensory information.

The games' computer-generated speech greatly slowed sounds that are nearly imperceptible in normal speech. As the children improved in distinguishing the sounds, the computer speech increased in speed until it reached a normal level.

In the experiments, the children were trained for one month with the computer games and other drills for three hours a day, five days a week. Nearly all the students improved their language skills to reach an age-appropriate level--some gained the equivalent of two years' comprehension in a month's time. The children had retained most of their newly found skills when they were retested a few months later.

The researchers said their results suggest that children with language-based learning disabilities do not have fundamentally defective "learning machinery." Instead, they need proper training.

"What we have designed are not remediation tactics to treat symptoms, but rather methods for reaching into and correcting the source of the problem," Ms. Tallal said in a news release.

More information on the studies is available by calling (800) 890-0445 or through the Internet at http://www.ld.ucsf.edu.

The Council for Exceptional Children has released standards to help states set teacher-certification guidelines and help colleges develop programs to train special educators.

Copies of "What Every Special Educator Must Know: The International Standards for the Preparation and Certification of Special Educators" are available for $14.50 each by writing the council at 1920 Association Drive, Reston, Va. 22091-1589 or by calling (800) CEC-READ.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

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