To game or not to game? Using tablet games in treatment of children with developmental language disorders

Rob Zwitserlood, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, the Netherlands (
Marjan ter Harmsel, Royal Kentalis, the Netherlands, (
Johanna Schulting, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, the Netherlands (
Ellen Gerrits, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, the Netherlands (

Background: Tablet games have become very popular with children. Games are engaging and fun. Many speech-language pathologists (SLPs) have adopted tablet games. However, SLPs also have questions about using tablet games in therapy. For instance, is there enough language interaction and learning when playing games or do children get too absorbed in the game?

Aim: To compare a vocabulary intervention delivered by SLPs, using either tablet games or real objects with toddlers with developmental language disorder (DLD).

Method: A randomised controlled trial was conducted with a tablet game and a real object treatment condition. Thirty-five three-year-old children with DLD received twelve 10-minute scripted intervention sessions with a tablet game, spread out over 8-9 weeks. A second group (n=35) received the same amount of intervention with real objects, using the same script. All children visited special daycare centers for children with DLD. In each session, the children were exposed to 22 target words from the theme ‘kitchen’. Receptive knowledge of the 22 target words and 22 balanced control words was measured with a picture selection task pre-intervention, post-intervention, and five weeks later.

Results: In both conditions children learned significantly more target words than control words. There were no significant differences in gains between the tablet and real object conditions.

Conclusions: Vocabulary intervention for toddlers with DLD using tablet games is equally effective as an intervention using real objects. Tablet games can boost children’s motivation and engagement.

Implications for children: You love to learn and you love to play games. With games you can learn as much new words and have lots of fun!
Implications for families: When you play tablet games together, your child learns as many words as in other types of play.
Implications for practitioners: You can use tablet games and real objects equally effective in vocabulary therapy.

Funding: This project is funded by SIA RAAK-Publiek 2015-02-10P

Key words: children’s voices, professionals’ voices, innovations, communication, education, quantitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: