Language DisordersBabies or toddlers can understand what parents say to them before they can even talk. As a child gets older communication skills increase and develop and they learn to put their idea, feelings and needs into words. A lack of ability to understand language or verbal skills can make it difficult for them; and some have trouble understanding what others are saying while others find expressing themselves challenging as well. Even when parents work hard with their language development and encouragement at home, sometimes kids still struggle because there is a language disorder. These disorders do not usually resolve on their own and parents may find themselves wondering if their child will outgrow it or if they need the help of a professional. In addition, parents wonder how a potential language disorder affects their child at school or with their social and emotional development. Educating yourself on what language disorders are (and how to identify them), will help you make the most informed decisions going forward. For that reason, we’ve put together this informational guide below with answers about common signs and symptoms; explanations of treatments for these issues; plus more invaluable information.
- What is a Language Disorder?
- Is there a Difference Between Speech and Language Disorders?
- Are Language Disorders Common?
- What Problems Does a Child with a Language Disorder Have?
- What Causes Language Disorders in Children?
- How Can Language Disorders Affect Your Child’s Everyday Life?
- How are Language Disorders Diagnosed?
- How are Language Disorders Treated?
- How Can I Help My Child with Their Language Disorder?
What is a Language Disorder?Children with a language disorder struggle with language processing, comprehending and/or using language. They might have trouble understanding what other people are saying or expressing their own needs/feelings. The language issues can be in the form of vocabulary, reading comprehension skills, sentence structure or grammar, gestures, discourse, and written language. There are two types of language disorders that a child or adolescent might have and identifying the specific issues one has helps to provide the best treatment from a speech therapist.
- Receptive Language Disorder: These children have difficulty understanding language and taking the meaning from it. This can lead to struggles with interpreting words (spoken or written), grasping what others are saying or asking them, understanding sentences as they get longer, as well as comprehension problems when it comes time to respond at school-related tasks.
- Expressive Language Disorder: A child’s ability to communicate verbally can be hindered by an expressive language disorder. This is because the child might have difficulty using vocabulary, organizing words into a sentence or telling stories about their day or what they have read; it’s also frustrating for these kids because they may have trouble conveying thoughts and ideas through talking.
Is there a Difference Between Speech and Language Disorders?Language disorders are not the same as speech disorders; they can seem small and nuanced, but it’s important for parents of children who suffer from either one or both conditions to know how their specific disorder affects them and what the different treatment should be. Speech disorders affect the sounds used to make up words. Leaving out sounds in words, or changing around the sounds have to do with phonological disorders which are a type of speech issue. Stuttering is also a type of speech disorder, which you can read about here. An example of a difference between a language and speech disorder is as follows:
- Child 1 knows the word for “cup” but says “tup” instead – this is a speech issue
- Child 2 says “Gimme that,” using a general word “that” because they don’t know the word for “cup” – that is a language issue
Are Language Disorders Common?There are estimated to be around 6-8 million people in the US who have a language issue. Nearly 8% of children aged 3–17 years had a communication disorder during the past 12 months.
What Problems does a Child with a Language Disorder have?In many cases, children are born with a language disorder. Yet, they may not show any signs of it until later on in life and then only when using more complicated words does their problem become apparent to others around them. The signs and symptoms are different in every child but if parents notice the following signs, they should reach out to a speech therapist for a screening. | Children with a receptive language disorder may have trouble:
- Understanding and/or processing what others say
- Learning new vocabulary words
- Understanding ideas and concepts
- Following directions and/or organizing their thoughts
- Telling people what they want or asking questions
- Responding correctly in a conversation
- Using specific words
- Using longer sentences or more complex ones
- They may struggle using multiple words together in sentences that make sense
- Telling stories about their day or having a conversation
What Causes Language Disorders in Children?The cause of a language disorder is not known and researchers are trying to identify any environmental and/or genetic factors that have a role in the development of these issues. Acquired language disorders can happen due to a stroke, seizure, or other head injuries. Those that children are born with have another cause that is unknown. Some known issues that increase the likelihood of a language disorder include:
- Early hearing loss
- Neurological issue
- Intellectual disability
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Drug abuse during pregnancy
- Genetics and a family history have a relationship with language disorders
How Can Language Disorders Affect Your Child’s Everyday Life?Being an effective communicator is one of life’s most valuable skills. Language plays a key role in learning to read and write, interacting with peers in a social setting, and having a successful professional career. However, unaddressed language disorders can have severe consequences if not properly treated. Children may have trouble in school and receive poor grades, they may experience low self-esteem and social isolation, or they could have behavioral issues due to their frustrations communicating. As with most developmental issues, the best prevention is often early intervention. In fact, research suggests that the first 6 months of a child’s life are the most critical to their language development. To be proficient in language, exposure to language, and any necessary treatment should begin as early as possible.
How are Language Disorders Diagnosed?A speech and language therapist will diagnose a language disorder by giving your child a few tests. These tests can help determine how well the child can understand and use language like vocabulary or grammar as compared with other children their age. If a parent suspects a language disorder, they should consult with a doctor as well to rule out hearing loss or another medical diagnosis like Autism. In the language disorder therapy there will be an interview with the parent and the child (if old enough) to determine how the language issues are affecting everyday life and how the language problem is limiting academic success. Early intervention is critical for children with communication disorders – typically while a child is a toddler or preschooler. These early years are when typical language development occurs and a child should be increasing their vocabulary or grammar skills. You can see a checklist for birth to 5 years old here for communication skills. Importantly, multilingual children with language disorders will have issues in both languages and should be evaluated in both languages. Hearing more than one language does not cause a language disorder. Parents are actually advised to continue speaking their native language and therapy should support both. It is not recommended to stop using any of the child’s languages as this is not supported by evidence. Speech language pathologists (SLP) are the experts who evaluate, diagnose, and treat language disorders and they will help you figure out what next steps are. They will test how well your child does on age-appropriate communication activities, including their vocabulary, grammar skills, follow directions that increase in complexity, how well they can have an age appropriate conversation and answer questions, and other language activities.
How are Language Disorders Treated?Speech therapists will help families in the treatment of language disorders for a child. They can use different age-appropriate treatments or materials to help a child at different ages to improve language and communication skills. Whether speech therapy is online or not, they can use:
- Toys, books, common objects, pictures to help promote skills;
- Use fun activities, such as crafts or sports
- Have a conversation with your child to practice communication skills
- Reading and writing skills
- Technology that can assist in comprehension or communication with others
How Can Parents Help Their Child with Their Language Disorder?As a parent, no one knows your child better than you: their needs, temperament and learning preferences. By staying proactive in providing them with a nurturing environment to help grow, learn and thrive while also being able communicate effectively it will be possible for them to become great communicators. Parents can do a lot at home to help their child improve their language skills. These are general tips for parents who have kids with a language disorder. Speaking with your child’s speech therapist is critical to get specific ideas and homework to help your child make progress:
- Recruit experts to help like teachers at school who can help with accommodations, as well as speech therapists who can provide specific instructions
- Use everyday situations that you take your child to and name what you are doing. For example, at the grocery store you can talk about what you see and let your child interact with objects they see all the time. Keep sentences simple, but don’t use “baby talk.”
- Reading and talking to your child to help them learn words; you can read books repetitively to go over vocabulary again and again
- Taking a moment to listen and respond when your child talks
- Encouraging your child during play and using toys they may already have at home
Red Flags for Language Disorders that Parents Should Not IgnoreYou should contact your pediatrician and speech therapist immediately if the following symptoms are observed and you are wondering if your child needs speech therapy:
- Vocabulary or communication skills that don’t get better, or get worse
- New symptoms or irregular behaviors that were not observed before
How Can Therapy Works Together Evaluate and Treat All Ages Online?Therapy Works Together helps families connect online with a licensed and certified speech therapist that is a trained expert in diagnosing and treating a variety of speech, language and communication issues. Speech therapy is delivered online at home with video conferencing applications. The age of our clients as well as their diagnosis and goals is important in determining how speech therapy online will be delivered. Speech therapy for babies and toddlers: For kids age 0-3, we usually work on early communication skills like joint attention, social communication, or increasing language skills in late talking toddlers. Parents work with their assigned speech language pathologist, usually in a parent coaching model, to learn tips and strategies that speech therapists use so they can be adept at practicing teaching their child after the session is over and at home. You can read more here about how important it is for parents to be involved in their child’s speech therapy at home. Speech therapy for preschoolers: For kids age 3-6, speech therapists target age appropriate articulation, language delays, reading readiness and more. Parents join in for online video sessions with the child so that both learn the speech strategies and skills from the speech therapist. Learning how to use these skills after the session helps kids improve. Speech therapy for school age kids: for children age 7 and up, speech therapists might work on academic skills, increasing vocabulary, social skills for kids with autism, stuttering and more. Children this age can come to online video sessions on their own. Our speech therapists keep parents informed by sharing tips and homework. Speech therapy for adults: Adults attend speech therapy sessions online after becoming stroke patients, for stuttering, for accent modification and more. They come to sessions on their own from the comfort of their home or office. Often, they bring a caregiver or family members to learn strategies if they will need help communicating with others.
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