Language Impairment

What is a language impairment?

Language impairment as well as language delays alter the typical acquisition of language development. Language impairments are “specific” in the absence of genetic diseases, sensory disorders (ex. deafness), neuromotor disorders (ex. cerebral palsy), intellectual impairments, global development delays and/or any other medical or neurological pathology such as Autism.

In general, language impairments can appear through difficulties in receptive and expressive language. These children will mainly make more of an effort to express themselves and during learning. It is however important to underline the distinction between language impairment and language delay. In fact, language impairment includes the same clinical signs found in language delay but manifests in much more severe ways and persists over time. This may thereby cause suffering due to academic challenges as well as difficulties in social and professional adaptation.

What are the clinical signs?

It is essential to specify that manifestations of language impairment or language delay are numerous and vary in terms of severity from one person to another. Amongst the various signs, parents may spot one or many of the following disturbances:

  • Concerning comprehension:
    • Difficulties in comprehension despite normal hearing.
    • Difficulties understanding sentences outside of context.
    • Difficulties understand double instructions and executing them.
    • Difficulties understanding long, complex and abstract sentences.
  • Concerning Vocabulary:
    • The production of a frequent word which corresponds to an image or an object can only be made after a delay of several seconds.
    • Frequent difficulties finding words: the child knows the word but cannot express it spontaneously or on demand.
    • Replacing words with paraphrases (example: “we eat that” instead of “apple”), with generic words (example: this, that, etc.) or with gestures, in order to compensate and make themselves clear.
    • Vocabulary during comprehension and expression is limited to frequent and familiar words used in daily life.

  • Concerning speech:
Errors in speech which mostly manifest through adding syllables or sounds (example: televilision instead of television) and/or through simplifying words (example: penci instead of pencil). Asking your child to repeat the word does not usually improve its production.

  •  Concerning the construction and production of sentences:
    • Incapacity in or avoidance of complete sentences, producing instead isolated words or syllables.
    • Sentences are short and inappropriately built. In general, sentences are simplified and are often made of verbs and nouns (example: « daddy no vacation … work » instead of « daddy is not on vacation, he is working”).
    • Difficulties using pronouns and connectors (example: daddy home).
    • Difficulties recounting simple events (example: their day at school) by using correct, long, clear and informative sentences.
  • Concerning social language:
In certain cases, pragmatic difficulties may be encountered, which are usually translated by difficulties engaging in turn taking and/or sharing information in the setting of a certain conversation (theme, moment, etc…). In addition, difficulties may be found in adhering to usual conversation rules and etiquette (example: letting others speak uninterrupted, raising their hand, respecting common courtesy).


How to act?

When suspecting a language impairment or delay, it is important to consult a speech therapist first and foremost in order to identify any possible disorders and compare them to normality. The speech therapist will thus assess different language skills in order to determine the difficulties and to be able to implement a treatment plan with regards to the needs of each child. Afterwards, oral language rehabilitation focuses on the implementation of strategies that facilitate the development of expression and understanding of language in order to promote communication within family, social and academic entourages. Parental guidance is also essential in order to help parents adapt to their children’s needs and better support them in the development of language.