Subtle Language Problems Can Hurt Your Child in School

Your child is bright yet he struggles to participate in class and with written assignments. He may be a good reader and very good at grammar and following rules, yet he is disorganized expressing his thoughts. This is not about overall intelligence, but a subtle, higher-level language problem.

See if this sounds like your child:

  • He often starts talking about something without giving an introduction to the topic. He doesn’t realize the listener doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about, or thinks the subject is still their previous topic.
  • When you ask him what happened at school, his response is choppy, missing a sequential flow or details. The child might say, for instance, "It was so funny when they crashed." He leaves out that in science class, they studied how fast cars of different weights speed down a slope.
  • His stories seem random or tangential. Speech may be slow and hesitant with lots of fillers – um, like, hum, and you know.
  • He may rarely initiate conversation as conversation is exhausting for him.
  • He does well on multiple choice or other recognition worksheets and tests. However, he doesn’t do well writing his own answers to open-ended questions, such as essays.

How Does a Speech Pathologist Help?

Arrange for a speech and language assessment to learn in more detail about your child’s abilities. What are his strengths and where do the breakdowns occur? Speech therapists use both standardized tests and informal measures to evaluate these skills.

Often children with these subtle language and learning difficulties need to work on patterning and sequencing skills. These might involve working on spatial concepts such as right, left, above, in front of, in back of, below, next to, and between. They might also need to work on temporal concepts, such as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, last, beginning, middle, end, before, after, later and until.

They often benefit from working on descriptive words, varied sentence structure, and varied length of sentences, from short to long. The therapist may also work with your child on following or creating patterns.

What can you as a parent do to help?

  • Use everyday experiences to model sequenced stories about what you are doing.
  • Watch TV or movies with your child to practice summarization and prediction of events.
  • Ask directed questions to help your child respond. Avoid very open-ended questions.
  • Cartoon reading and creating can help build language skills and a sense of story structure.
  • With older children, help them break larger projects into smaller projects. Develop a visual time line as an aid.

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