Specific Language Impairment

Understanding SLI, Receptive and Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder

Specific language impairment (SLI) describes a condition of markedly delayed language development in the absence of any conditions such as deafness, autism, or mental retardation that would explain the delay.

SLI, sometimes called childhood dysphasia or developmental language disorder, is most likely caused by a language processing disorder. It is found in 5-10% of pre-school children.

At-Risk Readers
Children with specific language impairments are at-risk readers. fMRI images show a 98% overlap between listening and reading. While reading difficulties can show up in early grades, it is just as likely that they appear in later grades when the more complex content and comprehension requirement exposes reading inefficiencies caused by their language difficulties.

At-Risk Learners
Similarly, children with specific language impairment are at-risk learners. They tend to have weak attention skills, due to the exhaustion caused by the listening effort, and they have an under-developed working memory, a primary driver of comprehension and reasoning skills in later grades.

Receptive Language Disorder
Receptive language disorder (also called mixed receptive language disorder) is a learning disability which can affect the understanding or the expression of language or both. Affected children may have trouble following spoken directions. (When they get older, you may have to give them written directions.) They may also have problems in social settings if they can’t process what is being said or express themselves normally. This diagnosis isn’t in any way related to a child’s intelligence.

Receptive-Expressive Disorder
Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder is diagnosed when a child has problems expressing him- or herself using spoken language, and also has problems understanding what people say to him or her.

Three to five percent of all children have either receptive or expressive language disorder, or both. These children have difficulty understanding speech (language receptivity) and using language (language expression). The cause is unknown, but there may be genetic factors, and malnutrition may play a role.

Problems with receptive language skills usually begin before the age of four. Some mixed language disorders are caused by brain injury, and these are sometimes misdiagnosed as developmental disorders.

Symptoms of SLI
Children with SLI usually begin to talk at roughly the same age as normal children but are markedly slower in the progress they make. They seem to have particular problems with inflection and word forms, such as leaving off endings when forming verb tenses (for example, the |ed| ending when forming the past tense).

This problem can persist much longer than early childhood, often into the grade school years and beyond, where these children encounter difficulties in reading and writing. The child with SLI also often has difficulties learning language incidentally, that is, in picking up the meaning of a new word from context or generalizing a new syntactic form. This is in decided contrast to the normal child’s case, where incidental learning and generalization are the hallmarks of language acquisition. Children with SLI are not cognitively impaired and are not withdrawn or socially aloof like an autistic child.

Specific Language Impairment Versus Other Disorders

Oral language difficulties are associated with a wide range of disabilities, including hearing impairment, broad cognitive delays or disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders.

Specific language impairment differs from the preceding conditions. Although it is always important to rule out hearing problems as a source of language difficulties — including fluctuating hearing loss such as that associated with repeated ear infections — most children with SLI have normal hearing.

Furthermore, specific language impairment does not involve global developmental delays; children with SLI function within the typical range in non-linguistic areas, such as nonverbal social interaction, play, and self-help skills (e.g., feeding and dressing themselves). Children with autism spectrum disorders have core impairments in social interaction and communication, including both nonverbal and verbal skills, as well as certain characteristic behaviors (e.g., repetitive movements, lack of pretend play, and inflexible adherence to routines) that are not found in youngsters with SLI.

Our Program For SLI

Although children with specific language impairment are at substantially increased risk of reading difficulties, this need not be a life sentence. The underlying processing delay that causes SLI can be improved and often completely removed using Fast ForWord software, our intensive speech and language program that builds processing speed, accuracy and efficiency for K-12 children.

If this SLI description fits your child, and he or she is five years of age or more, call an educational consultant to find out if we can help. Free consults are also available outside normal business hours. Or send us an email here:
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