Topic Manipulation

Development, Implications and Resources

Topic Maintenance Tips

Click here for a resource with more topic maintenance tips.

Topic Manipulation Development

- Preschool

o Development begins prior to spoken language as children establish joint attention with their caregivers

o At 3 ½ , nearly ¾ of utterances are on topic

o 50% of 5 year old children can stay on topic for a dozen or more utterances

o Preschoolers use repetitions to stay on topic

- Elementary

o Still Reintroduce topics- as they approach adolescents, more novel topics introduced

o Consistently maintain more topics more than preschool children

- Adolescents/Adults

o Majority of utterances on topic

Special Considerations

- Men: topics involve opinions, facts, debates
- Women: topics used to establish relationships, share feelings, build rapport
*Interesting fact: Gender preferred language best predicted by topic of utterance, not
necessarily author
- Asian Cultures: more indirect language may mean fewer topic initiations
- Hispanic Cultures: interruptions appropriate thus discourse may include more abrupt
topic shifts
Socioeconomic Status (SES)
- Children from lower SES households may have less developed vocabulary due to
fewer communication interactions at home; thus, topic introductions and
maintenance may be difficult in certain situations.

Implications for the Speech-Language Pathologist

- Topic Manipulation is a Pragmatic Language skill, but may also impair other language domains:

o Syntax: Inability to properly maintain a topic may impair structures of sentences (due to distractions), structures of papers, structures of narratives etc.

o Semantics: Inability to establish background information/semantic understanding for communication partners due to inappropriate shifts

- Individuals with attention deficit disorder may have difficulty focusing on topic at hand introducing relevant topics

- Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have trouble focusing on topics that are not of interest to them

o Children with ASD may experience difficulty with social situations/relationships as they may have difficulty showing interest in the topics of their communication partners

- Difficulty with Topic manipulation may have negative implications on writing of expository texts, narratives and sharing class presentation

Interventions: Graphic Organizers to Assist with Topic Manipulation


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Janssen, A., & Murachver, T. (2004). The relationship between gender and topic in

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doi: 10.1177/0741088304270028

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