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Language Disorders

What is Language

Language refers to the words, sounds, and gestures we use to express ourselves and to understand the world around us. It is a social tool employed to communicate ideas and/or feelings within a specific group or community.

Language is comprised of different parts:

  • Semantics - word meanings
  • Morphology - units of meaning that make up the grammar of a language, e.g., plural 's'
  • Syntax - rules governing the arrangement of grammar and ordering of language units
  • Pragmatics - rules of social interactions

Receptive Language Disorder

A receptive language disorder affects the ability to understand spoken and sometimes written language and often makes it difficult to respond to others appropriately. Children with receptive language disorders can have difficulty processing language and making connections between words and the ideas they represent. School-age children may experience difficulty organizing their thoughts on paper. Receptive language disorders can be associated with conditions such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder, specific language impairment and pervasive developmental disorder or they may be caused by brain injuries.

Expressive Language Disorder

A developmental expressive language disorder does not have a known cause and generally appears at the time a child is learning to talk. Acquired expressive language disorder is caused by damage to the brain. It occurs suddenly after events such as a stroke or traumatic head injury. The acquired type can occur at any age.

An expressive language disorder is characterized by a child having difficulty expressing him- or herself using speech. The signs and symptoms vary drastically from child to child. The child may have problems putting sentences together coherently, using proper grammar, recalling the appropriate word to use, or other similar problems. A child with an expressive language disorder is not able to communicate thoughts, needs, or wants at the same level or with the same complexity as his or her peers. The child often has a smaller vocabulary than his or her peers.

Children with an expressive language disorder typically have the same ability to understand speech-language as their peers, and they have the same level of intelligence. Therefore, a child with this disorder may understand words that he or she cannot use in sentences. The child may understand complex spoken sentences and be able to carry out intricate instructions, although he or she cannot form complex sentences.

Language-based Learning Disability

Language-based learning disabilities are problems with age-appropriate reading, spelling, and/or writing. This disorder is not about how smart a person is. Most people diagnosed with learning disabilities have average to superior intelligence.

Dyslexia has been used to refer to the specific learning problem of reading. The term language-based learning disability, or just learning disabilities, is better because of the relationship between spoken and written language. Many children with reading problems have spoken language problems.

The child with dyslexia has trouble almost exclusively with the written (or printed) word. The child who has dyslexia as part of a larger language learning disability has trouble with both the spoken and the written word. These problems may include difficulty with the following:

  • 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 "stuff" 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 (e.g., taught in lectures/lessons) 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
  • Letters and numbers
  • Learning the alphabet
  • Identifying the sounds that correspond to letters, 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 math calculations
  • Spelling
  • Memorizing the times tables
  • Telling time 

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