Understanding Language Processing Disorders

January 17, 2018 by Michelle Reynard

Language processing disorders impact the way an individual receives or delivers information. Whether it’s difficulty understanding what’s been said and/or communicating thoughts and ideas, the end result is the same. The message is unclear. This lack of clarity can lead to social and academic challenges that impact development. As with all learning issues, early identification and intervention can make a tremendous difference in helping a child reach his or her potential.

Three Types of Language Processing Disorders

There are three types of language processing disorders: receptive, expressive, and language disorder (also known as mixed receptive-expressive). They can be defined as how we understand what is communicated to us by others, how we express ourselves verbally, and a combination of the two. Although each involves listening and speaking, language processing disorders are not synonymous with hearing loss, mispronunciation, or speech disorders. Language processing disorders concern difficulty with how the brain processes language.

Symptoms of Receptive Language Disorder Include

  • Difficulty following basic instructions
  • Appearing disinterested when read to
  • Doesn’t seem to be listening when spoken to
  • Confused by long sentences

Symptoms of Expressive Language Disorder Include

  • Frequently feeling like a word is on the tip of one’s tongue, yet just out of reach
  • Able to illustrate or describe a word, but cannot recall the word
  • Frustration over having a lot to say, but being unable to articulate it
  • Having a limited vocabulary compared to peers
  • Underdeveloped writing skills
  • Reading comprehension difficulty
  • Giving responses that are often off topic
  • Difficulty understanding jokes or sarcasm
  • Leaving words out when talking
  • Using tenses incorrectly
  • Confusing word order when speaking
  • Taking a long time to respond to questions

As the symptoms indicate, students with language processing disorders can have difficulty in school and communicating with family and peers. Because information in the classroom is often delivered faster than individuals with language processing disorders can interpret it, they frequently have difficulty following along. This can hinder achievement and lead to attention issues. Classmates may also exclude these students from conversations and activities or the individuals may try to avoid stress and anxiety by withdrawing from social situations. In some instances, frustration with communication challenges can even result in acting out or behavior issues.

Treatment for Language Processing Disorders

Language processing disorders are treatable. An audiologist can diagnose auditory processing difficulties as well as help identify or rule out hearing issues, while a speech and language pathologist can evaluate your child’s receptive and expressive language. There are a number of effective treatments and interventions that have been successful in helping students with language processing disorders. There are also accommodations that can be made in the classroom and at home. Speech therapy, cognitive training, allowing additional time for oral responses and assignment completion, using visual aids and/or multisensory materials, breaking directions into simple steps, and asking students to summarize what they hear or read are among these.

At the end of the day, one of the most important responses to a language processing disorder is to recognize it, and help your child understand that it does make learning challenging. Students with language processing disorders are often frustrated by the discrepancy between the amount of attention, time and effort needed to understand things they perceive as being easier for others. Acknowledging that effort and difficulty, in addition to solutions and understanding, can provide the hope and motivation needed to move forward.

Michelle Reynard

About Michelle Reynard

Michelle is a former classroom teacher with a specialization in reading. She joined Gemm Learning in 2008 and has enjoyed the opportunity to apply her education and experience in new ways.