PRESCHOOL LANGUAGE DISORDERS
What are preschool language disorders?
During the preschool years, or all of childhood in fact, an individual is learning the language at a rapid rate. From the time of infancy and to adulthood, a person’s language is constantly growing and evolving. This also happens differently for each person. Some may acquire language skills faster than others, however when acquisition occurs slowly, concerns might be raised. One may begin to worry about the presence of a language disorder in their child.
A preschool language disorder encompasses language disorders that affect children ages 3 to 5 years and have not yet started kindergarten. A child might have trouble with receptive language, which means they have trouble with the comprehension of language. Or a child might have trouble with expressive language, which means they struggle with the production of language. Some children might even struggle with both receptive and expressive language, as well as written language (both reading and writing). Your child may also have trouble saying sounds clearly - a speech sound disorder.
Preschool language disorders can look different in different children, depending on what areas of the language they are exhibiting deficits in. For example, a child with a preschool language disorder who is struggling with receptive language may have difficulty with following one-step or multiple-step directions, responding to questions, comprehending gestures, identifying objects, and turn-taking.
A child with an expressive language disorder may struggle with formulating multiple-word utterances (either statements or questions), learning songs/rhymes typically introduced in a preschool setting, correct use of pronouns, code-switching (speaking differently depending on the setting), and maintaining a conversational topic.
Preschool language disorders also encompass literacy struggles that can include both reading and writing. A child might struggle to recognize letters and the sounds that accompany them, tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, or he/she might even struggle to hold a book in the correct orientation.
PRESCHOOL LANGUAGE DISORDERS CAUSES
What are the causes of preschool language disorders?
There is no single cause for a preschool language disorder, as there can be many factors that contribute to a child having a language disorder like genetics, environment, or there can be no reason at all. This can sometimes cause frustration for parents and caregivers who wish to know why their child may have been diagnosed with a language disorder or might be worried that they have done something to cause the language disorder (which is often not the case).
Many of the theorized ‘causes’ of a language disorder are attributed to elements completely outside a parent/caregiver’s control. Some factors that are thought to be connected to preschool language disorders include:
Premature birth or low birth weight
Chronic ear infections or hearing loss
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Failure to thrive
A family history of language issues/disorders
Traumatic brain injury or other brain injury such as stroke
Genetic syndromes (i.e., Down Syndrome)
PRESCHOOL LANGUAGE DISORDERS DIAGNOSIS
How are preschool language disorders diagnosed?
Diagnosis may begin with the speech-language pathologist gathering background information on the child from the parent/caregiver. This will likely include educational history, developmental history, and medical history. Once background information has been gathered, the speech-language pathologist might follow up with an in-depth, norm-referenced assessment. These assessments often include assessing the child’s ability to:
Identify objects or people
Describe objects or photos
Produce complete multiword utterances
Adhere to routine, such as lining up for lunch or cleaning up after play-time
Hold books in the correct orientation
Identify letters/corresponding sounds
Identify their written name and attempt to write it
Discuss events and pictures from age-appropriate books
The SLP can also check if it's easy to understand your child and how s/he uses lips, tongue, and teeth to produce the sounds. Following said assessment if a child has performed below what is considered average for their age and development, they will more than likely be referred for speech-language services.
PRESCHOOL LANGUAGE DISORDERS TREATMENT
How are preschool language disorders treated?
Preschool language disorders are treated by a speech-language pathologist. Family members and caregivers may be included in the speech therapy process, sometimes even other outside professionals depending on the child’s needs. If a child is struggling with their receptive language, therapy can include increasing a child’s understanding of language through:
Practice following directions
Focus on turn taking
Practice responding to questions
Discussing the meanings of certain gestures
Identification of objects when described verbally or shown in person or through photos
If a child is struggling with expressive language, treatment can include:
Increasing a child’s length of utterances
Practice describing objects or pictures
Learning the correct use of pronouns
Utilizing code-switching depending on the conversational partner
Maintaining certain topics in conversation and allowing conversational shifts to occur
When treating written language, treatment might include either working on the child’s written skills (i.e., their ability to write their own name) or their ability to identify certain letters/their corresponding speech sound.
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