Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from a blog post that originally appeared on Special Education Guide.
How do you know when it’s a language delay versus a disorder?
Unfortunately, there is not always a straightforward answer to this question. A language delay is just that—a delay in acquisition of language skills compared to one’s chronological and cognitive/intellectual age-peers. A young child with a language delay may exhibit a slower onset of a language skill, rate of progression through the acquisition process, sequence in which the language skills are learned, or all of the above.
However, there is a subset of children who continue to demonstrate persistent difficulties acquiring and using language skills below chronological age expectations (by preschool or school age) that cannot be explained by other factors (for example, low nonverbal intelligence, sensory impairments or autism spectrum disorder) and may be identified as having a specific language impairment (language disorder).
In contrast to a delay or a disorder is a language difference. With a language difference, communication behaviors meet the norms of the primary speech community but do not meet the norms of Standard English. This difference can exist whether the person in question is a child from a different country or simply from a different neighborhood in the same city.
So, what are some options for addressing language delays and disorders?
Intervention for a delay may take on several forms:
- Indirect treatment and monitoring
- Provide activities for parents and caregivers to engage in with the child, such as book-sharing and parent-child interaction groups.
- Check in with the family periodically to monitor language development.
- Direct intervention, including techniques such as:
- Expansions—repeating the child’s utterance and adding grammatical and semantic detail.
- Recasts—changing the mode or voice of the child’s original utterance (for example, declarative to interrogative).
- Build-ups and breakdowns—the child’s utterance is expanded (built up) and then broken down into grammatical components (break down) and then built up again into its expanded form.
Intervention for a language disorder is child specific and based on that child’s current level of language functioning, profile of strengths and weaknesses, and functioning in related areas, including hearing, cognitive level and speech production skills. The overall goal of intervention is to stimulate language development and teach skills to enhance communication and access academic content. The developmental appropriateness and potential effectiveness on communication and academic and social success should be considered when developing treatment goals.
Aruna Hari Prasad, MA, CCC-SLP, is ASHA associate director of school services. firstname.lastname@example.org