What is language impairment?
Some children have difficulties learning and using language, that are not caused by other factors (such as autistic spectrum conditions, hearing impairment, other sensory impairments or more general learning difficulties, although these conditions may co-occur). The language difficulties are also not due to the child learning English as an additional language.
Children who seem to have more difficulties with language than other areas of learning and development can be described as having language impairment (also known as specific language impairment, language disorder, or developmental language disorder). These children may also develop communication skills in a different way to other children e.g. having difficulties producing grammatically correct sentences despite having an age-appropriate understanding of language.
What might I notice if a pre-school child has a language impairment?
The following features are often found in children with language impairment, but form part of an overall profile. If a child is showing lots of these signs, then they may benefit from further assessment by a Speech and Language Therapist.
- May be late starting to talk (e.g. no words until age 2)
- Good at making themselves understood without words, for example by using gestures, facial expression or pointing
- More able to understand instructions and language when pictures, gestures, and play is involved
- Difficulties learning and remembering new words, particularly verbs
- Grammatical endings to words are missed out, for example saying “boy eat” rather than “the boy is eating the apple”
- May use words in the wrong order in sentences, e.g. “my baby got my home that one”
- Speech may also be unclear, and the child may have difficulties with the awareness of sounds within words (such as syllable clapping and rhyme)
What might I notice if a school-aged child has a language impairment?
The following features are often found in children with language impairment, but form part of an overall profile. If a child has is showing lots of these signs, then they may benefit from further assessment by a Speech and Language therapist.
- May find it hard to learn and remember words but be able to demonstrate their understanding of them, e.g. describing a thermometer as “a grees (degrees) measurement”
- Difficulties understanding more abstract vocabulary – for younger children, you may notice difficulties with verbs
- Omitting a significant amount of grammatical words and word endings, e.g. missing auxiliaries (is, was) or using only key words (also known as telegrammatic speech, e.g. “boy kick ball”).
- Limited variety of sentence types, with particular difficulties with complex sentences (such as difficulties joining sentences together with words such as ‘but’, ‘before’, ‘however’ , e.g. saying “Before her shopping was another shopping” or “The shop closed until the lady saw”)
- Significant difficulty in explaining and recounting an experience. They may have problems with sequencing and give insufficient information when re-telling stories.
- Follows instructions in the classroom by looking for clues and copying others – may not have understood the actual language
How does the Bucks SLT service support children and young people with language impairment?
The service works in partnership with families and staff to support children and young people with language impairment. This includes training, advice and support to enskill others to develop the child or young person’s communication skills in a wide range of activities and environments. Look at The Bucks SLT training page (https://slt.buckshealth.link/about/training/ ) for information about our current training opportunities, including the training course for school staff, ‘language disorder – the hidden disability’. The service may also work with children at home, in their educational or pre-school setting, individually or in small groups, depending on the needs of the individual child. The service uses evidence-based interventions to develop children and young people’s language skills, such as Shape Coding by Susan Ebbels®.
Bucks Speech and Language Therapy Training (https://slt.buckshealth.link/about/training/)
Communication Carousel – Building Sentences, Telling Stories, Understanding Language, Vocabulary Talking Tips, activity sheets and resources (https://slt.buckshealth.link/communication-carousel/)
RALLI campaign (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5J2oZIiKfB4VG0Zq_xabUA)
Information about Shape Coding by Susan Ebbels® (http://www.moorhouseschool.co.uk/shape-coding)
The Communication Trust (www.thecommunicationtrust.org)
I CAN (http://www.ican.org.uk/What_is_the_issue/About%20SLI.aspx) has information about language impairment, including links to advice sheets, books and DVDs they produce
Talking point contains information about language impairment (http://www.talkingpoint.org.uk/parents/some-children-struggle/about-specific-language-impairment-sli)