Gwyneth Rost studies how children learn language, with a focus on youth who have language impairment, a developmental condition that can be broadly defined as clinically and educationally significant disabilities in the comprehension and use of grammar, vocabulary, literacy and social language. Language impairment affects 7% of the general population but is prevalent in an estimated 67% of juvenile offenders.
Simply, the majority of youth who must navigate the dense and complex language used in interrogation and court proceedings are doing so with clinically disabled language skills. Rost used her year as a Family Research Scholar to develop a grant proposal entitled “Is disability incriminating? Language impairment in the juvenile justice system.” In this study, Rost asked how language impairment affects juveniles and their families as they progress through the legal system. She studied comprehension of legal language by the affected juvenile and family members, and production of language by the juvenile and by police officers in interrogation situations. Together these experiments began to address the clinical needs of adolescents in the juvenile justice system and long-term best practices for police and courts.