Language Delays and Disorders

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What Is A Language Delay And Disorder

Neurozonewave Language Delays and DisordersA language disorder is any impairment in one’s ability to use or understand language. We can divide language skills into receptive abilities and expressive abilities. Receptive abilities are also known as comprehension skills which incorporate both listening and reading and expressive abilities can be thought of as production skills which incorporate speaking and writing. Language delays or disorders may occur in isolation or they may occur within the context of other conditions.

A language delay or disorder may involve disturbances in any one or any combination of the 5 main domains of language. These domains are:

  • Phonology – The speech sound system of a language.
  • Morphology – The study of word formations.
  • Syntax – The system of rules used in constructing and understanding the form of sentences.
  • Semantics – The system of rules for relating meaning to words, phrases, sentences, and texts.
  • Pragmatics – The system of rules which govern the way language is used to communicate.

Classifying Language Delays And Disorders

Language disorders can be classified based on their origin. Many language disorders occur as part of another condition or disorder which affects other aspects of development and function. Other language disorders occur in isolation.

Developmental Language Delays And Disorders

Developmental language disorders and delays occur when a child has difficulties with the acquisition of the various aspects of language or speech. They often do not meet their developmental milestones for language at age-appropriate levels. From the early stages of language learning, these children have persistent problems and limited facility with the various aspects of language. The challenge with developmental language issues is making the determination of whether the problems represent delays in language or disorders of language.

Acquired Language Disorders

Acquired language disorders are characterized by a clear and obvious reduction in language abilities from an individual’s previous level and are therefore viewed as a disturbance of a system that was already successfully developed. In most cases, the language system developed normally but as a result of some type of trauma to the brain or other condition or disease process, they have lost some degree of language function.

Types Of Language Disorders And Delays

Language delays and disorders can present as a component of another condition or disorder or they can present as there own delay and disorder. The following language impairments are the among the most commonly diagnosed in language impaired individuals.

Specific Language Impairment (SLI)

Individual’s with S.L.I. have either a receptive and/or expressive language impairment in the absence of other developmental delays or disorder. These children are usually late talkers and have limited vocabulary development before the age of 5. Language production is characterized by shorter, less elaborated, and grammatically simple sentences than same age peers. These individuals also have ineffective use of language in social contexts leading to difficulties with peer interactions.

Language Processing Disorders

“Language processing is defined as the ability to attach meaning to language conveyed through the auditory modality.”

Once the ears have perceived auditory information and processed it through the auditory processing channel, language processing takes over and allows us to attach increasingly complex meaning to that incoming auditory stimuli. Language processing is defined as the ability to attach meaning to language conveyed through the auditory modality. This skill allows us to perform complex decoding of information in order to attach increasing levels of meaning to that information. When an individual has difficulties with this aspect of language, a language processing deficit occurs.

A pure language processing deficit cannot be attributed to a significant language delay, cognitive delay or sensory deficits. These individual’s demonstrate normal intellectual functioning with age-appropriate developmental language skills in the areas of semantics, syntax, phonological, and pragmatic abilities. Although their language skills are age-appropriate, they process language-based information at a slower rate than average.

Many of the signs and symptoms of a language processing disorder relate to being able to understand the meaning behind the words being used. These include:

  • Difficulties understanding spoken language
  • Poor writing skills
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Difficulties labeling objects
  • Difficulties finding the words to express ideas
  • Difficulties understanding abstract language like jokes
  • Word finding problems
  • Difficulties following directions
  • Trouble rhyming at an early age


With most developmental or childhood based language delays or disorders, the key to successful remediation is early intervention. With the high rate of co-morbidities amongst children with language deficits, early intervention often incorporates a variety of therapies to address multiple issues.

Using this approach as a theoretical model for treating language delays and disorders has lead to the application of neurologically based interventions, such as neurofeedback, which have been shown to dramatically increase treatment outcomes.

Traditional language intervention focuses on remediation of specific language skills that have been identified in the assessment. For example if an individual’s vocabulary skills are deficient, treatment will focus on improving vocabulary skills in various ways. Using this approach, the cognitive underpinnings which support vocabulary growth and development are not addressed and it is assumed that they are intact. In order to properly address language skills, one must first address the cognitive foundations which are the building blocks of the language system.

A cognitive approach to treating language incorporates the assessment and remediation of the cognitive underpinnings of language in order to support the remediation of language. These cognitive underpinnings include such things as attention, memory, auditory processing skill, and executive functions. By addressing the cognitive foundations first, the language intervention becomes more successful and often many skills that were thought to be delayed or disordered are in fact not. The problem was one of accessing the skill through the neurological channels as opposed to a skill that was absent from the repertoire.