HIV-infected children at greater risk for language delays

HIV-infected children at greater risk for language delays

It’s a sobering statistic: about 10,000 HIV-infected U.S. children and adolescents have the virus because they were exposed prior to or at birth. Little is known about the impact HIV has on their physical and cognitive development.

Now a national team of medical researchers and neuroscientists is coming to grips with the consequences of HIV on cognitive development, a high priority for the National Institutes of Health. Among those at the forefront is Mabel Rice, director of the Center for Biobehavioral Neurosciences in Communication Disorders. She is focusing on possible neurocognitive and language acquisition disorders in these HIV-positive children as part of the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study.

Rice is finding that language delays are much more prevalent in this population than previously thought. Estimates were that about 10 percent would score low on language assessments, but Rice said the number is actually 35 percent. About two-thirds of these children also have cognitive impairment, said Rice. But there is still a higher risk of delayed language acquisition in this group of children than researchers expected, even for those who are not cognitively impaired.

The discovery that HIV is one of the factors that can contribute to language impairment, independent of other developmental disorders, is an important advance, said Rice. “This will help science identify diseases that can influence higher cognitive abilities even when other developmental disorders are not apparent.”