Language is a form of social behavior shaped and maintained by a verbal community. A language impairment occurs when there is a significant deficiency not consistent with the student’s chronological age in one or more of the following areas: a deficiency in receptive language skills to gain information, a deficiency in expressive language skills to communicate information, a deficiency in processing (auditory perception) skills to organize information. Specifically, a language impairment may include a deficiency in one or more of the components of language; phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Morphology is the study of word structure and includes the use of grammatic structures such as regular past tense/plural, possessives, etc. Syntax is the arrangement of words to form meaningful sentences. Semantics is the meaning of words, and includes vocabulary development. Children with a semantic language disorder may have difficulty with category naming, multiple meaning words, figurative language, antonyms/synonyms, etc. Pragmatics is the use of language in social situations. This includes maintaining a topic, taking turns with the other speaker, etc.
When we look at language, we divide into two parts; Expressive and Receptive Language.
Generally, receptive language develops before expressive language. For a child to be able to communicate and learn they need to be able to understand spoken language. A child will have difficulty talking or responding to a question logically if they are unable to understand what has been said. For this reason it is important that a child is given the opportunity to develop their receptive language skills before focusing on their expressive skills. Providing a child with a language rich environment is the best way to develop a child’s receptive language.
Expressive language refers to the ability to verbally express words to convey a message. Children’s expressive vocabulary will continue to grow as they learn how to use new words. Support your child’s attempts to try to use new words as this will build their confidence.
Receptive language refers to the ability to understand spoken language. Children will understand many more words than they will be able to use and this is often referred to a receptive vocabulary. Help build your child’s receptive vocabulary by exposing them to lots of new words.
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction “many students, including those with developmental disabilities and, in particular, those classified as mentally disabled, exhibit limitations with expressive and/or receptive communication skills. Not all such students are considered to have a speech-language impairment and in need of therapeutic intervention from the speech-language pathologist. The speech-language pathologist and other members of the IEP team should consider the efficacy of therapeutic intervention for each student and, in determining such, should consider whether or not enrolling a student for speech-language services will significantly change his/her ability to communicate.” Children with cognitive impairments should not be expected to have language skills equal to their peers with higher cognitive functioning. Not only are these children going to have academic difficulties, but language difficulties as well. One must consider whether language skills are below cognitive functioning and are in need of remediation, or if cognitive level limits the child from developing higher- level language skills. Children in middle and high school who have been tested for language and whose scores indicate a language delay may have missed critical language milestones. In general, the later intervention takes place the less likely remediation will occur. With these children it is important to consider if his/her needs can be met in the general education program by the use of supports and services.