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Signs of Learning Disabilities: Speech & Language Impairment

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

At times, children can experience issues in speech and language. Often these issues are developmental, but sometimes they can be serious. In this lesson, we will be discussing speech and language impairments and how these issues can often result in learning disorders.

Broadly Speaking

When a student is diagnosed with a speech impairment, it is important to understand that the child probably has difficulty making certain sounds, which can make it difficult to grasp what the he or she is saying. The child may also have difficulty understanding language, making accommodations in our teaching even more important.

A Closer Look

When you encounter a child who has difficulty with certain sounds, understanding what they are saying can be difficult. Sometimes we are left trying to guess the meanings of their words. There are a number of reasons why this may be happening.

The child may have difficulty understanding language, or it may be that the child has an articulation disorder, which is a difficulty pronouncing certain sounds. You may encounter a child who stutters or exhibits long silences when trying to explain something. This could be a fluency disorder.

As a teacher, it is important to observe and note any speech difficulties a student is experiencing. This will provide as much information when and if a referral to a speech language pathologist is needed.

Phonological Disorder

When children are young and acquiring language, it is not unusual for them to have difficulties with patterns of sounds, but this should resolve itself as they get older. If it has not, then it is possible that the student has a phonological disorder.

Phonological disorders are the result of a breakdown of the organizational patterns of sounds in the brain. There is confusion as to the order of sounds, so you might see a child who leaves sounds out, or changes the order of sounds in words. These breakdowns are causally different from articulation disorders, which happen in the way words are formed in the mouth.

The reality is that whether we are looking at phonological disorders or articulation disorders, both lead to difficulties in reading. Recognizing words, understanding their component parts, and being able to blend sounds are critical to development in reading. We need to make sure that these disorders are identified and remediated so the student can be successful.

Central Auditory Processing

When working with students with central auditory processing disabilities, it is important to keep in mind that their brain has a difficult time processing the sounds in words, and this causes a tremendous amount of confusion in the child. Understanding the order of the sounds poses great difficulties for this student.

It is difficult for this student to sound out words or read fluently with ease. Students with central auditory processing disabilities will often appear to freeze when called upon to answer questions because they cannot process the language as quickly as other students.

Teaching Strategies

  • Showing what you want rather than explaining is an excellent first step.
  • When you call on them, give them a few seconds to process what you have asked. This student needs time to for the words to be fully understood before an answer can be formed.
  • Ask the student to tell you the vocabulary words, the rules, or the concepts of the lesson you are teaching to help them process the information more completely.

Expressive and Receptive Language Disorders

Tommy keeps trying to explain why his homework is not completed, but he is getting stuck, he is moving from one foot to the other, and the language he is trying to find is not there. This is not an unusual occurrence for Tommy; he suffers from an expressive language disability.

Teaching Strategies

  • Use visuals to help students organize and communicate
  • Encourage the student to slow down while speaking.
  • Provide students with choices of correct grammar.
  • Provide feedback that will help them improve. This will help them learn to self monitor.

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