Language is the primary medium of learning. Everything we are expected to learn is either heard or read. Our skills are demonstrated through words or written language.
Language-based learning disabilities are problems with age-appropriate reading, spelling, and/or writing.
It is therefore not surprising, that language difficulties can interfere with academic performance. Language is not just another subject at school; it is the means by which all other subjects are learned.
The vast majority of children with learning disabilities have a language-based disorder which is amenable to treatment.
The following difficulties may suggest that a child has language difficulties:
- Expressing ideas clearly, as if the words needed are on the tip of the tongue but won’t come out. What the child says can be vague and difficult to understand (e.g., using unspecific vocabulary, such as “thing” or “what-ya-ma-call-it” to replace words that cannot be remembered). Filler words like “um” may be used to take up time while the child tries to remember a word.
tip of the tongue
- Learning new vocabulary that the child hears and/or sees (e.g., in books)
- Understanding questions and following directions that are heard and/or read
- Recalling numbers in sequence (e.g., telephone numbers and addresses)
- Understanding and retaining the details of a story’s plot or a classroom lecture
- Reading and comprehending material
- Learning words to songs and rhymes
- Telling left from right, making it hard to read and write since both skills require this directionality.
- Mixing up the order of letters in words while writing
- Mixing up the order of numbers that are a part of maths calculations
- Memorizing the times tables
- Maths difficulties particularly “word sums”
Oral and written language impairments are easier to identify because they can be heard or seen. However children who have difficulty processing language present more of a challenge.
These are the children who “fly under the radar” because their language difficulties are more subtle.
The following table adapted from Elizabeth Walcot-Gayda, Ph. D., Montreal, QC www.ldhope.com shows how these difficulties may manifest.
Examples of some cognitive manifestations of underlying language difficulties
Impairments in processes related to:
|Difficulties in processing sarcasm or understanding when someone is joking Difficulty taking another’s perspective
|Difficulties in understanding: long or complex sentence structure; and with figures of speech
|Difficulties with: retrieving vocabulary words; orally presented task demands
|Difficulties with new vocabulary and responses to teacher-directed questions
|Sounds in words (e.g. bat/bag) are confused; poor sound sequencing in words; limited automaticity in decoding
|Difficulty with comprehension of content caused by lack of fluency in decoding
|Difficulty retaining sound/symbol correspondence
|Difficulty extracting essential concepts due to focus on decoding
|Poor social interactions; does not keep up with fast-paced lessons
|Few connections between isolated bits of information in texts
|Slow linking of new with previously learned information
|Less material covered or takes extra time and much effort to cover material
|Few strategies when trying to remember content or concepts
|Difficulty writing since spelling may not be automatic
|Difficulty retrieving previously learned information
|Forgets spelling words after test; difficulty recalling significant events in history; any new learning is difficult
|Difficulty knowing when to pay attention Poor reading of social situations; impulsive
|Poor concentration when putting ideas together
|Little effort expended for remembering
|Work may be disorganized; goes off on tangents,
Executive functions (planning or decision making)
|Poor recognition of value of planning; impulsive
|Difficulty problem solving and understanding consequences of decisions
|Difficulty in linking new with previously integrated knowledge; Few strategies
|Difficulties in higher levels of learning, but has isolated pieces of knowledge
Most (but not all) children with underlying language disabilities DO NOT simply outgrow their problems.
It is not worth the “wait and see” approach only to find out that a small problem has become a bigger one that affects learning, literacy, social-emotional development and eventual vocational adjustment.
Your son is 2 years old and still isn’t talking. He says a few words, but compared with his peers you think he’s way behind. You remember that his sister could put whole sentences together at the same age. Hoping he will catch up, you postpone seeking professional advice. Some kids are early walkers and some are early talkers, you tell yourself. Nothing to worry about…
This scenario is common among parents of kids who are slow to speak. Unless they observe other areas of “slowness” during early development, parents may hesitate to seek advice. Some may excuse the lack of talking by reassuring themselves that “he’ll outgrow it” or “she’s just more interested in physical things.” After all, wasn’t Einstein late to talk? This can be a very confusing situation for parents who want to do the best for their child.
Whilst it is important to recognize that every child is unique and develops at his/her own pace, knowing what’s “normal” and what’s not in speech and language development will assist you in making a decision regarding referral to a speech and language therapist. Below is a chart of “typical” language development in children.
LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT CHART
|AGE OF CHILD
|TYPICAL LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
| 6 – 8 months
- Vocalization with intonation
- Responds to human voices without visual cues by turning his head and eyes
- Responds appropriately to friendly and angry tones
- Enjoys social games like peek- a- boo
- Babbling sounds include p, b, m
- Uses one or more words with meaning (this may be a fragment of a word)
- Understands simple instructions, especially if vocal or physical cues are given
- Practices inflection
- Is aware of the social value of speech
- Responds to name
- Has a vocabulary of 10-20 words.
- Produces more than 5 consonant sounds, like m, w, n, p, and b.
- Begins to use two words together (“mommy shoe” meaning “mommy’s shoe”).
- Points to some body parts
- Follows simple commands (“Give me the ball”).
- Pretend play beginning.
|2 years (24 months)
- Approximately 2/3 of what child says should be intelligible
- Vocabulary of approximately 150-300 words
- Rhythm and fluency often poor
- Volume and pitch of voice not yet well-controlled
- Can use two pronouns correctly: I, me, you, although me and I are often confused
- My and mine are beginning to emerge
- Responds to such commands as “show me your eyes (nose, mouth, hair)”
- Puts many actions together during play like stirring, pouring, scooping, and feeding a doll.
|3 years (36 months)
- Use pronouns I, you, me correctly
- Is using some plurals and past tenses
- Knows at least three prepositions, usually in, on, under
- Knows chief parts of body and should be able to indicate these if not name
- Handles three word sentences easily
- Has in the neighborhood of 900-1000 words
- About 90% of what child says should be intelligible
- Verbs begin to predominate
- Begins to use negative words – no, can’t don’t
- Understands most simple questions dealing with his environment and activities
- Relates his experiences so that they can be followed with reason
- Able to reason out such questions as “what must you do when you are sleepy, hungry, cool, or thirsty?”
- Should be able to give his sex, name, age
- Should not be expected to answer all questions even though he understands what is expected
- Asks lots of questions.
- Most regular and irregular past tense verbs are used correctly.
- Understands most questions but has difficulty answering “how” and “why.”
- Can retell stories and recent past events.
- Uses the pronouns: they, us, hers, his, them, her, its, our, him, myself, ours, their, theirs, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.
- Knows names of familiar animals
- Can use at least four prepositions or can demonstrate his understanding of their meaning when given commands
- Knows one or more colors
- Can repeat 4 digits when they are given slowly
- Can usually repeat words of four syllables
- Demonstrates understanding of over and under
- Has most vowels and diphthongs and the consonants p, b, m, w, n well established
- Often indulges in make-believe
- Extensive verbalization as he carries out activities
- Understands such concepts as longer, larger, when a contrast is presented
Many late talkers do “grow out of it,” but many do not. It can be difficult to predict which children will not catch up to their peers. However, a list of risk factors has been identified, which suggest that a child is more likely to have continuing language difficulties. These include:
- quiet as an infant; little babbling
- a history of ear infections
- Limited number of consonant sounds (e.g., p, b, m, t, d, n, y, k, g, etc.)
- does not link pretend ideas and actions together while playing
- does not imitate (copy) words
- uses mostly nouns (names of people, places, things), and few verbs (action words)
- difficulty playing with peers (poor social skills)
- a family history of communication delay, learning disabilities, or academic difficulties
- a mild comprehension (understanding) delay for his or her age
- uses few gestures to communicate
What about the group of late talkers who seem to catch up on their own without intervention?
Even though a large percentage of these children appear to catch up to their peers by the time they enter school, studies are showing that this group of children do not perform as well as their peers in certain aspects of language use such as language complexity and grammar.
So, back to my maxim – when in doubt, check it out,