Speech and Language Disorders
Speech and language problems are often the earliest indicators of a
learning disability. People with developmental speech and language disorders have
difficulty producing speech sounds, using spoken language to communicate, or understanding
what other people say. Depending on the problem, the specific diagnosis may be:
- Developmental articulation disorder
- Developmental expressive language disorder
- Developmental receptive language disorder
Developmental Articulation Disorder
Children with this disorder may have trouble controlling their rate of speech. Or they may
lag behind playmates in learning to make speech sounds. Developmental articulation
disorders are common. They appear in at least 10 percent of children younger than age 8.
Fortunately, articulation disorders are often outgrown or successfully treated with speech
Developmental Expressive Language
Some children with language impairments have problems expressing them selves in speech.
Their disorder is called, therefore, a developmental expressive language disorder. This
disorder can take many forms. For example, a 4-year-old who speaks only in two-word
phrases and a 6-year-old who can't answer simple questions have an expressive language
Developmental Receptive Language
Some people have trouble understanding certain aspects of speech. There's a toddler who
doesn't respond to his name, a preschooler who hands you a bell when you asked for a ball,
or a worker who consistently can't follow simple directions. Their hearing is fine, but
they can't make sense of certain sounds, words, or sentences they hear. They may even seem
inattentive. These people have a receptive language disorder. Because using and
understanding speech are strongly related, many people with receptive language disorders
also have an expressive language disability. [Of course, in preschoolers, some misuse of
sounds, words, or grammar is a normal part of learning to speak. It's only when these
problems persist that there is any cause for concern.]
Students with academic skills disorders are often years behind their
classmates in developing reading, writing, or arithmetic skills. The diagnoses in this
- Developmental reading disorder
- Developmental writing disorder
- Developmental arithmetic disorder
Developmental Reading Disorder
This type of disorder, also known as dyslexia, is quite widespread. In fact,
dyslexia affect 2 to 8 percent of elementary school children. When you think of what is
involved in the "three R's" -reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic- it's astounding
that most of us do learn them. Consider that to read, you must simultaneously:
- Focus attention on the printed marks and control eye movements across the page
- Recognize the sounds associated with letters
- Understand words and grammar
- Build ideas and images
- Compare new ideas to what you already know
- Store ideas in memory
A person can have problems in any of the tasks involved in reading. However, scientists
found that a significant number of people with dyslexia share an inability to distinguish
or separate the sounds in spoken words. Some children with dyslexia have problems sounding
out words, while others with dyslexia have trouble with rhyming games, such as rhyming
"cat" with "bat." Yet, scientists have found these skills fundamental
to learning to read. Fortunately, remedial reading specialists have developed techniques
that can help many children with dyslexia acquire these skills.
However, there is more to reading than recognizing words. If the brain is unable to form
images or relate new ideas to those stored in memory, the reader can't understand or
remember the new concepts. So other types of reading disabilities (dyslexia) can appear in
the upper grades when the focus of reading shifts from word identification to
Developmental Writing Disorder
Writing too, involves several brain areas and functions. The brain networks for
vocabulary, grammar, hand movement, and memory must all be in good working order. So, a
developmental writing disorder may result from problems in any of these areas. For
example, a child with a writing disability, particularly an expressive language disorder,
might be unable to compose complete, grammatical sentences.
Developmental Arithmetic Disorder
Arithmetic involves recognizing numbers and symbols, memorizing facts, aligning numbers,
and understanding abstract concepts like place value and fractions. Any of these may be
difficult for children with developmental arithmetic disorders, also called dyscalculia
(a form of dyslexia). Problems with number or basic concepts are likely to show
up early. Disabilities that appear in the later grades are more often tied to problems in
Many aspects of speaking, listening, reading, writing, and arithmetic overlap and build on
the same brain capabilities. So, it's not surprising that people can be diagnosed as
having more than one area of learning disability. For example, the ability to understand
language underlies learning to speak. Therefore, any disorder that hinders the ability to
understand language will also interfere with the development of speech, which in turn
hinders learning to read and write. A single gap in the brain's operation can disrupt many
types of activity.
There are also other categories, such as "motor skills
disorders" and "specific developmental disorders not otherwise specified."
These diagnoses include delays in acquiring language, academic, and motor skills that can
affect the ability to learn, but do not meet the criteria for a specific learning
disability. Also included are coordination disorders that can lead to poor penmanship, as
well as certain spelling and memory disorder.
[Source: National Institutes of Health, 1993.]
Characteristics of Young Learning Disabled Students
[Source: Neela Seldin,
1998 The Lab School of Washington.]
|Characteristics Related to General Functioning and Social-Emotional Development
- Immature emotionally and socially.
- "Spacey": Look of disorientation.
- Can't make choices.
- Can't stay with an activity.
- Distractible. Impulsive.
- Knows rules but does not apply.
- Labile emotions; excessive silliness;
catastrophic reactions; angry; shy or withdrawn.
- Shifts blame?
- Academic skills very slow in developing.
- Strong discrepancies in skills and knowledge.
- Socially off-base. Unaccepted by group.
- Poor memory.
- Easily frustrated. Won't take risks.
- Doesn't take pride in work or accept compliments.
- Excessively rigid: cannot abide change.
- Artistic. Sensitive. Mechanically inclined.
- Non-verbal reasoning is highly developed.
Related to Speech - Language Development
- Avoids talking or focuses mainly on adults.
- Uses pat phrases to communicate.
- Excellent vocabulary but poor production.
- Hesitates constantly, uses filler words, stammers.
- Makes off-topic comments? Raises hand but has no words.
- Wants to tell but cannot retrieve words.
- Tells stories in random order without references.
- Mishears or doesn't hear.
- Articulation weak with substitutions of sounds.
- Uses incomplete sentences. Mumbles. Slurs.
- Poor pragmatic: eye contact, turn-taking.
- Loses focus in group activities.
- Hypervigilant. Watches others to see what to do.
- Word order or syllable order frequently mixed.
- Cannot rhyme.
- Cannot segment sounds in words, or blend them together to make words.
Related to Sensory - Motor Development
- Avoids tasks. Coloring, drawing, cutting.
- Excessively physical. Touching, pushing, wrestling.
- Generally not upright. Leaning, lying, drooping.
- Gets into trouble when he/she has free-time or space.
- Bumps into things and people without awareness.
- Lasting egocentricity.
- Avoids or is uncomfortable on play equipment.
- Falls often and easily. Slides out of chairs.
- Large and fine motor skills immature.
- Can't blow nose or tie shoes.
- Very disorganized. Can't get ready. Clean up.
- Constantly losing things. Can't remember how to go, where to put things. What it's time
- Pencil grip awkward. Puzzles challenging.
- Fussy eater. Messy eater.
- Over or under reacts to stimuli. Treats a light touch as he/she does a punch. Frightened
by loud noises. Overwhelmed by strong smells and bright lights.