My Child is Struggling in School. Could an SLP Help?


When people think about speech therapy, they often just think about people who have difficulty pronouncing words or people who stutter. While pronouncing words incorrectly and stuttering are both problems that speech-language pathologists treat, SLPs address a much wider range of communication difficulties (see our blog on speech vs language).

One area where these difficulties most often present themselves is in the classroom. Once academic skills are introduced, children with language disorders can face tremendous hurdles in following directions, communicating well with teachers and classmates, as well as reading and writing.

Language for Toddlers vs School-Aged Children

Many language disorders are identified while the child is still a toddler. A toddler with a language disorder or delay will have difficulty using new words and difficulty communicating thoughts and desires compared to same-age peers. This usually results in a parent saying “My toddler doesn’t have very many words. Is that normal?” However, once a child reaches school-age, the classroom presents new challenges for children with language disorders.

 5 Domains of Language

To fully explain how a language disorder may look in a school-aged student, let me explain what language is in a little more detail. Language refers to the words we use and how we use them to communicate a message. Language is broken up into receptive language (listening and reading) and expressive language (speaking and writing).

 Language can also be classified into 5 domains:

  1. Morphology

    • The way we alter words to change their meaning (ex: adding plural -s to a word)

  2. Syntax

    • Grammar

    • The way we put words together to make a thought (sentence structure)

  3. Phonology

    • The knowledge of sounds

    • Ability to distinguish sounds while listening, speaking, and spelling

    • Includes rhyming

  4. Semantics

    • The meaning of words (vocabulary)

    • Understanding and using different words in spoken and written form

  5. Pragmatic Language

    • The social language skills we use daily

    • Includes what we say, how we say it, and our body language

    • Also includes our ability to judge what is expected in certain situation

As you would expect, each of these domains of language can affect academic language success in many ways. Reading is the written form of receptive language (understanding and listening). Writing is the written form of expressive language (speaking). If an individual has difficulty understanding and forming complete thoughts in spoken language, he or she will also have difficulty in reading and writing.

Language Disorders in the Classroom

 Here are some ways you may see a language disorder manifest itself in the classroom:

  1. Student has inappropriate social skills for age--difficulty making friends, difficulty with joint attention, does not pick up on social cues.

  2. Student has difficulty following age-appropriate directions.

  3. Student often needs information or directions repeated.

  4. Student has difficulty understanding and using age-appropriate vocabulary, figurative language, and abstract ideas.

  5. Student has difficulty answering comprehension questions about a text.

  6. Student has difficulty telling a story or staying on topic in conversation.

  7. Student has difficulty recalling or retelling information.

  8. Student has difficulty expressing ideas on paper or in spoken language.

  9. Student does not use appropriate grammar or use complete sentences.

  10. Student may have difficulty expressing a complete thought.

  11. Student has difficulty coming up with the correct word to use.

  12. Student has difficulty asking or answering simple questions or open-ended questions in a conversation.

  13. Student has difficulty with rhyming words.

This list is not comprehensive, and a student with a language disorder may not struggle in all these areas.

 We can help!

If your child or student is struggling in any of these areas, he or she may need the help of a speech-language pathologist. Please contact us today with any concerns or questions you may have!

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