What is a language disorder?

What is a language disorder?

Simply put, a language disorder is a problem in the use or understanding of language in any modality. A “modality” is the way in which language is communicated, whether spoken, signed, written, etc. A language disorder can affect anybody from any age-group. It can be present in the 5 year-old who’s sentence grammar is off to the point that it confuses people as to what the child is saying. It can be present in the 86 year old who is having trouble finding words. It can be present in the young teenager who can’t follow spoken instructions in class. A language disorder can stand alone or can co-occur with other disorders. It can have a clear cause, such a stroke in adults, or no precise cause, as is the case with many children with language problems.

In order for a disorder to be present, it must negatively affect a person’s interactions with the world relative to people of the same age, education, background, etc. It’s determined by a combination of what others have noticed about the language problem (including professionals) and scores on a number of standardized tests, which only a certain set of professionals can conduct. Speech-Language Pathologists are best trained to evaluate language skills. Oddly enough, however, SLPs are not allowed to make the diagnosis, despite their specialized training. Only MDs and Psychologists can (regardless of training or specialization).

A diagnosis of a language disorder can only be made if other areas of development are tested and there is a significant difference between language abilities and abilities in other areas of development. These other areas include memory, visual skills, speed of thinking/processing, activities of daily living, among many others. The “significance” should always be determined by comparing test scores, and never simply determined by anyone’s opinion alone. However, a language “impairment,” “delay,” or “deficit” can be stated by a SLP, but this opinion should always be supported by scores from what we call “standardized” tests – tests that are developed by testing hundreds (sometimes thousands) of children of any given age-group against known developmental milestones for the same age period.

An assessment by ESLS aways includes a well-standardized test of language skills to compliment information obtained through interview with parents and interactions with the child. If you are concerned about your child’s language development, make a referral today. Don’t “wait & see.” You don’t have to have a diagnosis or require a physician’s referral. The consequences of language disorders or delays are many, and will be discussed throughout our Resource series.


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