Language Disorders

Language development is connected to the physical maturation, cognitive development, and socialization of a person. Yet, the details of the process — the particulars of what happens physiologically, cognitively, and socially in the learning of language — are still being debated.  Language disorders are the impairment or deviant development of the normal processes in language development. These are often characterized by comprehension and/or use of spoken, written, and/or symbol system.

The disorder may involve (1) the form of language (phonologic, morphologic, and syntactic systems) (2) the content of language (semantic system), and or (3) the function of language in communication (pragmatic system) in any combination (Committee on Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools of the ASHA, 1982). . The ASHA definitions suggest a classification scheme involving five subsystems or types of language: phonological (sounds), morphological (word forms), syntactical (word order and sentence structure), semantic (word and sentence meanings), and pragmatic (social use of language).

According to Hegde (1996), whatever the age of the child being assessed, it is the role of  clinicians to typically follow a set of common procedures that serve as the foundation for the assessment. The assessment procedure usually entails obtaining clinician various types of relevant data such as:

– results of visual and/or audiological evaluations;

– medical data that may be relevant;

– psychological data, including results from cognitive and intelligence testing

After that a general overview of a child’s language skills will be suggested, if there is a possible language problem and further assessment is necessary.  In determining the developmental feature of language disorders, however, these are diagnosed separately, the presence of speech or language problems that cannot be explained by an obvious medical condition. For example, linguistic deficits can be confined to expressive language or can extend to receptive abilities, although pure receptive impairment is seldom seen.

When it comes to speech output, affected children may fail to produce sounds that would be expected on the basis of age and dialect, which may be associated with difficulties in the planning and execution of the fine motor sequences that underlie speech. It is important t note that although the ideal time to begin treating children with language problems is during the preschool years, many times it is during elementary school that language problems in children become apparent as the child begins to demonstrate deficiencies in reading and writing which hinders academic progress.

For preschool children, there are two features that can be associated with language-learning disability classified to be in the morphosyntactic form. Factors like mental retardation, environmental factors, and others could be the causes of these disorders.  Characteristics associated with language problems can include the following:

Problematic syntactic skills. – Shorter instead of longer sentences, simpler instead of more complex sentences, single words or phrases in place of sentences, and a limited variety of syntactic structures.
Problematic learning of grammatic morphemes – Difficulty with comparatives and superlatives (e.g., small, smaller, smallest), omission of bound morphemes (e.g., past tense-ed, plural-s), and incorrect use of learned grammatic morphemes, including overgeneralizations (e.g., womans/women, goed/went) past the appropriate developmental point.

In school-age children or older person, morphosyntactic difficulties have been observed with the following features:

Difficulty in using complex words or sentences containing subordinate clauses and suffixes – They may have problems inflecting words using suffixes (e.g., making a plural by adding s, constructing the present progressive by adding ing).

Limited length of sentences; sentences are shorter than expected – School-age children with syntactic difficulties might leave out important grammatical markers, such as articles (a, an, the) and might have problems using pronouns correctly (e.g., say her did it instead of she did it).
On the area of disorders in features of semantics, preschool children have been observed to have the following difficulties:

Slow or delayed language onset – Delayed babbling, slower vocabulary growth rate, delayed acquisition of vocabulary, slowness in combing words into phrases and sentences, and overall slower acquisition of language milestones.

Limited amount of language output or expressive language – Limited verbal repertoire, lack of complex or longer word productions, limited amount of vocabulary produced and comprehended, and lack of abstract words in repertoire.

On the other hand, disorders of semantics in school age children and adults have been observed with these features:

Word-retrieval problems in conversational speech resulting dysfluencies such as repetitions, revisions, and false starts – For example, after hearing the word rumpus five times in the story Where the Wild Things Are, the child might still react to this word in the future as if he or she has never heard it before.

Problems with word-definition skills; possibly especially evident in defining scientific and technical words –  For example, when faced with a situation that has rumpus-like characteristics, the child would not be able to use the word to describe the situation. The individual might not be able to make sense of stories, retell them in ways that make sense to listeners, or say things to which others can attach meaning.

In the area of pragmatics, the focus is on the context and the function of the utterance. As pragmatics define the social skills of language: how, where, when, and with whom language is used, it is thus heavily dependent on culture, what is viewed as polite in one culture may be seen as weak and unassertive in another. A person with a disorder in pragmatics might not understand how to use language in social situations.

For example, the person might start a conversation with a complete stranger by saying something like “I like planes a lot, and I like to watch them” or say something offensive, such as “You’re ugly!” or say something totally not connected with the previous statement. Individuals with pragmatic language disorders may not know how to make their needs clear to others or know how to use language for practical purposes.

Thus, problems in this area originate from the previous two disorders (morphosyntactic and semantics) because the feature of this disorder rely on the goals or functions of language, the use of context to determine what form to use to achieve these goals, and the rules for carrying out cooperative conversations; all of which are rooted in the previous two.

The proper approach to these disorders demands classification, but human beings and their language are very difficult to categorize. Therefore, all classification systems still contain ambiguities, and none can account for all cases. Children or adults may have either more than one primary diagnostic category or characteristics that do not fit into any category. This is in recognition of the fact that each child represents a unique set of circumstances, so language assessment and intervention should be individualized.


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