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.
- 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.
- Learning the alphabet
- Identifying the sounds that correspond to letters (phonological processing), making learning to read difficult
- 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”
- Telling time
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.
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.