This experiment tested the hypothesis that children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus (SBH) are more distractible than normal children, and that the distractibility partially accounts for the language deficits of these children. In Part 1, 15 of these children of primary-school age were compared with controls matched for mental age on a non-verbal task during which irrelevant stimuli were present or absent. Interference effects of the irrelevant stimuli were larger and more persistent for the SBH children. In Part 2, the children and their controls were tested for comprehension of relational words, with and without irrelevant information. The two groups performed similarly when there was no irrelevant information, but the SBH children exhibited vocabulary deficiencies when irrelevant items were present. These findings support the original hypothesis of a relationship between distractibility and language deficits.