Could Your Child Have a Language Disorder?
For most children, babbling, pre-speech sounds, and eventual words are as natural as can be. For some children, though, language can be a huge challenge. Learning to speak comes at different ages for different babies – especially for those wee ones who are exposed to multiple languages, so minor delays shouldn’t necessarily cause big worries. But if you’re noticing ongoing issues that are causing concerns, language disorders could be the cause.
Language disorders are actually quite common, affecting around 1 in 20 American children. Most can be overcome rather easily. But left untreated, they could have a serious, lifelong impact.
What Is a Language Disorder?
A language disorder can fall into one of two categories: expressive or receptive.
Children with an expressive disorder can have problems communicating or getting their meaning across to others. Children with a receptive disorder have problems understanding what is said to them and processing the meaning of words. Some children struggle with both: this is called an expressive-receptive disorder.
A language disorder is not the same thing as a speech delay. Children who have delays will still develop normal speech patterns: They just do it more slowly than their peers. In the case of language disorders, typical development is either abnormal or absent.
This diagnosis is also not the same thing as a speech disorder, such as a lisp or a stutter. Children with language disorders pronounce words correctly and their speech is clear. They struggle instead with the meaning and syntax of words.
What Causes Language Disorders?
It’s often difficult to pinpoint the cause of a language disorder. Typical causes include:
- Injury or trauma to the brain
- Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder
- Learning disabilities
- Hearing loss
- Damage to the central nervous system; this particular kind of speech disorder is called aphasia
- Maternal nutrition: maternal use of folic acid during pregnancy has been associated with lower risks of language disorders
Signs and Symptoms of Language Disorders
Children who suffer from receptive language disorders can present with:
- Difficulty understanding what people are saying to them
- Difficulty following directions
- Difficulty organizing their thoughts
Children with expressive language disorders will have symptoms such as:
- Difficulty putting words together; they often speak in short, simple sentences
- Difficulty finding the right word to express their ideas
- Frequently using “ums” and other fillers when speaking
- Frequently omitting words from a sentence
- Limited vocabulary for their age
- Repetition of the same words and phrases
- Improper use of verb tenses
- Difficulty learning new words
- Not speaking very often
- Apparent frustration at the inability to communicate
Children with an expressive-receptive disorder can display any or all of the signs and symptoms mentioned above.
As a parent, you should be concerned if:
- By 15 months, your child is not able to point to at least 5-10 objects in the room when you name them and cannot use at least 3 words
- By 18 months, your child is not able to say simple words like “mama” or “dada” and cannot following simple directions
- By 24 months, your child cannot point to body parts when you name them and is not using at least 25 words
- By 30 months, your child is not nodding or shaking head when asked questions and is not yet using two word phrases
- By 36 months, your child is not using 2-word phrases with a noun and a verb (such as “want toy”), is not following 2-step directions and does not have a vocabulary of at least 200 words
Testing and Diagnosing a Language Disorder
If you’re concerned about whether your child might be suffering from a language disorder, you can schedule and evaluation with a qualified speech therapist or a neuropsychologist to administer a standardized receptive and expressive language test. Auditory tests are also performed to rule out hearing loss as a possible reason for language difficulties.
You can also contact your state’s early intervention system and request testing if you’re concerned. States will do a free evaluation and under federal law are required to provide early intervention services for infants and toddlers who have a disability like a language disorder.
If your child is already in school, contact school officials for testing. If your child is diagnosed, then by law, the school must come up with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to outline the supportive services they will give your child.
Treating a Language Disorder
Treatment for a language disorder usually involves speech and language therapy. Psychological therapy is also available if needed.
The Importance of Treatment
It’s vital that language disorders be diagnosed and treated. If left untreated, children with language disorders are at risk for many serious complications, including:
- Depression and anxiety
- Poor social skills/social isolation
- Reading difficulties
- Poor school performance
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Conduct disorder
Supportive treatment at home includes:
- Talking to your child often (and giving them time to answer)
- Singing songs or playing music
- Reading books out loud and acting them out or making up endings
- Reciting nursery rhymes or poems
If your child has a language disorder, what therapies have been most successful for you?Tags : health development speech