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  1. Section Editor(s): Nelson, Nickola W. PhD, CCC-SLP
  2. Editor

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But occasionally it happens that (while thus doubting) we get a sudden idea and recollect that we heard or saw something formerly. This (occurrence of the "sudden idea") happens whenever, from contemplating a mental object as absolute, one changes his point of view, and regards it as relative to something else. - Aristotle1


In the opening quotation for this editorial, Aristotle presaged awareness of the importance of meta skills for learning and memory. In his treatises on nature, called Parva Naturalia, Aristotle was commenting on differences in how the mind (which he called the soul) works when focusing consciously on the nature of mental objects, in contrast to different forms of memory as can be exhibited by other animals.


In this issue of Topics in Language Disorders (TLD), Issue Co-Editors Julie Wolter and Geralyn Timler have compiled articles that "Focus on Meta Skills," which they note are critical for developing mature uses of language, a distinctly human phenomenon, for both academic and social purposes. The "mental objects" to be contemplated in this series of articles are of two distinct types, which can be described as follows: (a) awareness of morphological units of meaning in language, which can signal both syntactic and semantic relationships, and (b) awareness of self as an independent being and as someone who can be understood in relationship to others. Although morphological awareness and self-awareness are quite different constructs, they share a linkage through language that is highlighted throughout this double issue of TLD. The implications for understanding the needs of school-age students who, for various reasons, struggle with the development of concepts that seem to come naturally to others make this issue important reading both for practitioners (e.g., teachers, special educators, speech-language pathologists, and psychologists) and researchers across disciplines about why meta matters.


This is an issue in two parts. Wolter served as Issue Editor for Part 1, which focuses on morphological awareness and assessment. Timler served as Issue Editor for Part 2, which focuses on autism and concepts of self. Both parts address issues related to the importance of taking a different point of view and being able to regard a less tangible something (language, self, social skills) relative to something else, in developing maturity. The importance of being able to take a meta view of one's language and oneself can hardly be overstated if children (or adults) are to be able to move beyond basic functions to develop higher, more conscious forms of language use and social participation.


In Part 1, Apel (2014) urges researchers and clinicians to adopt a more comprehensive definition of morphological awareness that encompasses both spoken and written aspects, how affixes can alter both meanings and grammatical class, orthographic implications for attaching affixes to base words/roots in written language, and relationships among words that share the same root, after alteration through different affixes. Mitchell and Brady (2014) provide evidence about how third- and fifth-grade students handle a variety of different prefixes and suffixes when they are combined with real-word and pseudoword bases, suggesting value in both assessment formats. Wolter (2014) sheds light on the role of transparency of meaning and form in related words, as well as the role of imageability (ease of picturing the base word's referent) in assessment and intervention targeting morphological awareness. Subscribers to TLD will be able to access the Supplemental Digital Content online, in which Mitchell and Brady and Wolter generously share their assessment tools, with permission for them to be used for research and clinical purposes.


In Part 2, readers are asked to contemplate a different type of developmental awareness. In this case, meta matters because children need an awareness of self and awareness of how others relate to self if they are to be able to mature as social-emotional beings and participate in the social world.


Part 2 begins with an article by Shopen (2014), who offers arguments about the importance of understanding how and why private speech develops, as well as what it signals, as a means to understanding the essence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). It is a thought-provoking piece that takes readers back to one of my favorite books, edited by Katherine Nelson (1989), Narratives From the Crib, in which an interdisciplinary group of scientists consider a young child's presleep monologues through their various disciplinary lenses. Shopen also highlights the contrasting contributions of Piaget and Vygotsky to understanding the development of cognition and the role of private speech in learning and coping. He places these theoretical explanations in the context of research on limitations in developing personal narratives and the near absence of private speech among many children with ASD as a key to understanding the nature of autism. Shopen's article should trigger some new thinking among researchers and clinicians. It makes me think about the role of "social stories" (e.g., Gray, 2005), in which an external source of simple narrative language accompanied by pictures can serve as an accommodation for some of the self-regulatory and self-comforting functions that children with ASD seems to have difficulty developing naturally.


Timler, Boone, and Bergmann (2014) round out the issue with discussion of a new Conversation Participation Rating Scale. They frame the tool's development around the concept of social participation for students with ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders that involve challenges in social communication. By asking students to rate aspects of how they communicate with others and how others communicate with them, examiners can assess the degree to which students are aware of features of their communication, as well as those of their peers. This perspective can inform clinicians' awareness of barriers or facilitators to social communication and guide them on how to foster metapragmatic ability in students. Two case studies are used to stimulate readers to think about implications for practice.


Through these five articles, I expect readers to gain a new level of appreciation for why meta matters. I particularly want to thank the two Issue Co-Editors, Julie Wolter and Geralyn Timler, for their active leadership in putting together this fine, intellectually stimulating and clinically relevant double issue of TLD. Its interdisciplinary contributions and merging of theory, research, and practice fit beautifully into the best traditions of the journal.


-Nickola W. Nelson, PhD, CCC-SLP






Apel K. (2014). A comprehensive definition of morphological awareness: Implications for assessment. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(3), 197-209. [Context Link]


Gray C. (2005). Foreword. In Howley M., Arnold E. (Eds.), Revealing the hidden social code: Social StoriesTM for people with autistic spectrum disorders. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. [Context Link]


Mitchell A. M., Brady S. A. (2014). Assessing affix knowledge using both pseudoword and real-word measures. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(3), 210-227. [Context Link]


Nelson K. (Ed.). (1989). Narratives from the crib. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [Context Link]


Shopen R. (2014). The case for private speech as a mode of self-formation: What its absence contributes to understanding autism. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(3), 240-251. [Context Link]


Timler G. R., Boone W. J., Bergmann A. A. (2014). Development of the Conversation Participation Rating Scale: Intervention planning implications for two school-age children with autism spectrum disorders. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(3), 252-267. [Context Link]


Wolter J. A. (2014). Imageability and transparency in morphological awareness: A study of how third-grade children made lemonade from lemon. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(3), 228-239. [Context Link]


1 From On Memory and Reminiscence (Part 1), one of the short treatises that make up Aristotle's Parva Naturalia, translated by J. I. Beare (c. 1931), University of Adelaide, South Australia. Retrieved May 28, 2014, from http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/a/aristotle/memory/[Context Link]