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10/07/2017 | BlogSpeech and language

Specific Language Impairment – What Does This Mean?

Are you the parent of a child who is struggling at school? There are some areas like art, sports, music, technology that they do well in however other more traditionally academic subjects which involve lots of talking and discussion are far more difficult for them? You may also find that they find it difficult to follow conversations and you sometimes find it hard to understand what they are trying to explain to you. It’s possible that your child may have ‘Specific Language Impairment’.

What is ‘Specific Language Impairment’?

Specific language impairment or SLI, as it’s sometimes known, is when someone has typical skills across all areas of their development with one exception; their ability to understand and use spoken language. Additionally, their difficulty with language must not be associated with any other condition e.g. hearing loss, autism or Downs Syndrome. Their difficulties could be quite mild and short-lived or they could have significant difficulties which continue into adulthood.

What are the typical traits of someone who has SLI?

  • They frequently struggle to communicate their ideas to others
  • They find it difficult to understand and remember long stories or instructions
  • They find puns, idioms or other non-literal language confusing
  • They may talk in sentences however they are frequently difficult to understand
  • They find learning and using new words hard, often having words ‘on the tip of their tongue’
  • They find word maths questions far more difficult than maths questions using numbers and symbols
  • They may prefer physical play e.g. football instead of spending lots of their free time talking
  • They may find it difficult to join their peers in conversations which may make it hard for them to make friends
  • All of these difficulties may mean that they frequently become frustrated and some behavioural difficulties may occur as a result of this

How do I find out if my child has SLI?

Unfortunately there is no specific ‘test’ for SLI however it’s possible to diagnose by comparing the child’s language skills to their other cognitive abilities e.g. spatial awareness, non-verbal reasoning. In order to do this your child will need a language assessment which is completed by a Speech Pathologist and a cognitive assessment which is completed by a psychologist.

What causes SLI and how many children have it?

We know that there is a genetic link in people who have specific language impairment however there is no specific ‘cause’ which has been identified so far. Studies have shown that in 5 year olds, SLI affects about 2 children in every classroom (about 7%). It is more common in boys than girls.

How can we support children with SLI?

Children typically learn language naturally through listening to others and practising as they grow up, however the same cannot be said for children with SLI. These children need language to be specifically taught to them using visual support and having lots of opportunities to practice. A Speech Pathologist will be able to help your child with this. Additionally, they will be able to give teaching staff advice and strategies about how to adapt school work to maximise your child’s learning potential. Talk to us today to find out more or to book an appointment with a Speech Pathologist.

Philippa Brown is a Speech Pathologist working at our Ormond practice and who has a special interest in children presenting with Specific Language Impairment.