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Language Difficulties and Treatment

Language Disorders: How Language is Organized and How Language Disorders Can Affect That Organization

Posted by Jordyn Sims, MS, CCC-SLP
Jordyn Sims, MS, CCC-SLP
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“Language Disorder” is a term that encompasses many difficulties with spoken and/or written language; but given the somewhat wide range of the term, it can be a little overwhelming to understand and define. In today’s blog post we’ll expand on the term, and give a little overview of the organization of language in general!

Language Disorders can make school, work, and daily communication exceptionally frustrating. Yet, as with many communication disorders, they have NOTHING to do with intelligence. In fact, many people with Language Disorders are of average or even superior intelligence. Language Disorders can exist devoid of any other condition – you don’t necessarily need to have a specific disease or a certain traumatic event happen to have a language disorder.

Before anything further, let’s talk a little about how language is organized and a few key terms about that organization.

  • Expressive vs. Receptive – language can be divided into two aspects: how we use it (expressive language) and how we understand it (receptive language).
  • Spoken vs. Written – again, we can divide language in two, this time in terms of how we are using it. We can refer to oral, spoken language that we speak or hear, or written language, language that we write or read.
  • Language Hierarchy
    • Word-Level – this can also be thought of as vocabulary. This vocabulary can either be accessed for understanding or for expression.
    • Morphology – this refers to word-endings that add meaning. Think plurality and verb tenses here. Again this exists receptively and expressively.
    • Syntax – this refers to the rule-based method of how we put words together to make sentences. This, too, is expressive and receptive.
    • Conversation/Prose – this refers to putting sentences together to form more cohesive messages, whether you are speaking in conversation or writing in paragraph (or longer) form. It also can refer to how well you understand conversation or the written word in longer form.
  • Speech vs. Language – keep in mind that speech and language are not one and the same. Speech refers to how we coordinate our mouths and vocal cords to create and modulate speech sounds that come together to form words. Language is the process of formulating the content of what you are going to say. Speech is how you physically say it.

So now that we’ve set up those parameters, let’s talk Language Disorders!

What is a Language Disorder? The big, overarching idea here is that a language disorder results in some difficulty with either understanding or using language in its spoken or written form. There are several disorders that may fall within this umbrella:

  • Expressive Language Disorder – some children (and adults) may have difficulty only with using language expressively (producing language either orally or in written form). In the case of an expressive language disorder, the implication is that this person does NOT have difficulty understanding language. This disorder may not be associated with any disease or condition, and may simply be something that the person struggles with, devoid of any other difficulties. They may have trouble finding words, creating sentences that follow the rules of syntax and grammar, or they may have trouble organizing their thoughts on a more conversational, big-picture level.
  • Expressive/Receptive Language Disorder – this again is a disorder that may arise devoid of any other issues or conditions. Some children and adults simply struggle with language, both expressively and receptively. Generally speaking, if a person has difficulty with receptive language, they will also have difficulty with expressive language. Expressive and receptive language may not be equally affected, however, so one aspect of language in that sense may be stronger than the other.
  • Language-Based Learning Disability – this refers specifically to difficulty with reading, spelling, and/or writing that is greater than is to be expected for a person’s age. Of course, these skills are difficult for young children first acquiring them. However if these skills are difficult beyond age-expectations, a child may be diagnosed with a language-based learning disability. Again, it should be emphasized that many children with language-based learning disabilities are of average or superior intellect.
    • Dyslexia – within this category is a specific reading-based disorder, dyslexia. This refers specifically to difficulty with the written word, and usually results in difficulty with sounding out words, spelling, and recognizing sight words. We will discuss dyslexia in greater depth in a later blog post. Keep in mind, with the right children, just about anyone with dyslexia can become a good reader and writer.

 The great news is that there are a huge variety of ways that language disorders can be treated. Speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and special education teachers are well-versed in how to help compensate for language disorders and how to improve language skills.

Based on specific strengths and weaknesses in terms of where and how language breaks down, treatments and tasks can be assigned that will help to build language skills.

Whether you need to expand your vocabulary, improve your use of syntax, or work on your understanding of conversation, there are things you can do to improve, and Constant Therapy has a variety of tasks to help you make that improvement.

Topics: Aphasia

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