What is Language?
Language can be defined as a set of symbols which are usually words or signs that are used in an organised way to communicate ideas and thoughts. It is made up of two components including receptive language (understanding of gestures, words and language) and expressive language, which is the use of gestures, words and written words to communicate.
Language is made up of many building blocks which include: Morphology (the way in which words are made up to indicate past tense, plurality, possessive), Semantics (meaning), Syntax (the way in which words are put together to form meaningful and grammatical sentences), Prosody (involves duration, pitch intensity in which the sounds of speech are made), Vocabulary (the words a child knows and uses) and Pragmatics (the social Òroad rulesÓ of language which govern how we use language and interact with each other).
What is a Language Delay
Language is something that is acquired, not taught. It follows a predictable sequence of development and should occur naturally when the child is in a situation where they are exposed to language and normal social interaction from birth. Language development can be affected by the complex interaction of genetic and environmental influences.
A language delay is where the child's language is developing slower than other children of the same age but it is following a usual pattern. For example, a child may be 4 years of age but understanding and/or using language typical of a child who may be only 2.5 years of age. A child may have a receptive language delay or an expressive language delay. This means that the may have good understanding of language (comprehension) but their expressive language - or how they use words and language, may be delayed.
Language delay may be primary or secondary. It is secondary if a child has another difficulty which has impacted on their language skills, such as Autism, Hearing impairment, Global Developmental Delay, etc. When language delay is primary, there will be no other difficulty identified.
Indicators of Language Delay:
- Late to talk and first words do not appear by the age of 15-18 months.
- The child gets their first words but then do not go on to develop new words quickly.
- By two years of age, saying less than 50 words and not using any two word combinations.
- The child has difficulty understanding what is being said to them and has difficulties following instructions.
- Their language sounds immature for their age.
- They have difficulty attending at group time at kindergarten or school.
- á The very young child may have difficulties with eye contact, attending to activities and to speech, using sounds and gestures.
Common Challenges that Children with Language Delay:
- If expressive delay only, getting across ideas and thoughts that they want to.
- For children with receptive language delay, difficulties understanding instructions required at kindergarten or school.
- Difficulties accessing the school curriculum.
- Difficulties interacting with peers.
Management Strategies that help support a child at home and school:
- Providing those involved with the child information about exactly at what level of the understanding the child is at so that the language used is at an appropriate level for the child to understand.
- Setting up an individualised plan with parents/carers that has small achievable speech and language goals to help develop the child's language skills.
- Providing the family with strategies, activities and ideas that can be used during the day to help develop the child's language difficulties.
- Providing the child with strategies to manage situations when they don't understand (e.g. teaching them to put up their hands when they don't understand, teaching some standard questions to ask when needed etc.).
- Liaising and working with educational staff to provide information to be incorporated an education plan and/or implementing ideas/suggestions/activities to help improve the child's speech and language skills and ability to access to the curriculum.
Speech Pathology Therapy approaches and activities that can support the individual or their carers include:
- Providing parents with interaction strategies to develop language which can be implemented during daily activities within the home.
- Using multi-sensory approach (e.g. sight, taste, smell, touch), to learning new words and concepts.
- Using the child's interests to help develop their language skills.
- Using fun play-based activities or games to help motivate the child to learn.
- Use of visuals (pictures, words) to help understanding and expressive language where appropriate.
- The use of books and stories to aid language development.