Students with Severe Language Disorder

April 30, 2014

Children with a language difficulty have trouble understanding, using and processing language. Approximately 6 per cent of school-aged children have significant speech and language problems.[1] Speech Pathology Australia 2003 sourced from  In some parts of Australia, the number is as high as 13 per cent. [ref]   McLeod, S., & McKinnon, D. (2007). Prevalence of communication disorders compared with other learning needs in 14,500 primary and secondary school students. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders 42 (S1) 37-59.[/ref]

Do you think this applies to students in your grade? Consider this…researchers have found that up to one third of primary school age boys referred for psychological services because of challenging behaviours had significant but previously unsuspected oral language deficits[2] Cohen, N., Davine, M., Horodezky, N., Lipsett, L. & Isaacson, L. (1993). Unsuspected language impairment in psychiatrically disturbed … Continue reading.

Teachers, psychologists and others should therefore consider the adequacy of the language skills of children who display behavioural problems.

Children with expressive language difficulties have difficulty using words to convey what they want to say. As they get older, these children will have difficulty expressing their ideas logically and clearly, and using grammatically correct sentences.

Children with receptive language difficulties have trouble processing and understanding the meaning of what other people say. Almost all children with receptive language difficulties also have expressive language difficulties. Their weakness in understanding oral language generally limits the development of a broad vocabulary, and can have significant implications for other learning, behaviour, and social-emotional development.

Since children with language disorders have better developed nonverbal abilities, their nonverbal thinking and reasoning abilities should be harnessed when working with these children. Four key strategies to assist include:

  • Follow the recommendations of the child’s speech pathology report. The recommendations can help assist teachers and parents to effectively support the child. It is helpful to discuss the recommendations with the Speech Pathologist, if possible, and to ask questions if you do not understand or fully agree with all aspects. Specific recommendations can be useful for teachers developing an individual learning plan. 
  • Do not correct the child’s language, rather model and expand correct language. If the child says ‘Rainfall’s June lowest ’, model and expand the correct sentence structure for the child. ‘Yes, June’s rainfall was the lowest by 6 mm.’
  • Identify the child’s strengths. These children have just average to well-developed nonverbal abilities and may be able to express themselves well through art and craft, drawing and digital programs such as ACMI Storyboard Generator, PowerPoint andKahootz. They may also be strong in some subjects that require less linguistic processing, such as ICT and computing, graphic design, mathematics, geography, mapping and aspects of science and technology. Strengths in these areas should be nurtured and developed.

  • Assist the child to tell a story or recall an event, focusing on the topic, who was involved, and where the event took place. Teach the child the meaning of different question forms, for example that ‘who’ refers to people, ‘what’ refers to things, ‘when’ refers to time, and ‘where’ refers to place. Encourage the child to explain who or what their story is about, what action occurred, and who or what was involved in the action. Use pictures, drawings or photos to tell a story, remaining on topic by recounting what happened at the beginning, middle and end.

For more information and classroom strategies see ‘Working with children with a severe expressive or receptive language disorder’. An excerpt is available to non-members.