Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Child Language: Talking about talking

Photo by Kristen Vanzant

Child Language is the field of study concerned with the typical and atypical patterns of development of oral and written communication in childhood. 

Don’t most kids just learn to talk? Why yes, most do eventually, but not everyone is equally articulate. In our American culture, verbal intelligence is the most prized of the intelligences. Our general education system is built on an assumption that all students are linguistically strong, and today those who struggle with oral language are at risk for failure.

Forty years ago, when child language disorders were becoming recognized, some researchers argued that there was no such disorder, but rather that some children are relatively less adept than others, much like some children learn to ride a bike easily while others struggle. Through years of research, some of these same minds later identified specific deviancies in the language skills of a subset of children who were not only acquiring language slowly (late-talking) but also using patterns of speech and grammar that were not part of the normal sequence of development.

Today, children who exhibit these features may be appropriately diagnosed with a language disorder or language-based learning disability. Current estimates indicate that 7% of children have a language disorder that is not explained by any other neurological, developmental, or physical issue (for more stats on prevalence and incidence, visit the American Speech Language Hearing Association website at Left untreated, these children are at an increased risk for academic and social disadvantages; such are the consequences of not being highly verbal in our highly verbal society.

Fortunately, major advances in the understanding of child language development and disorders now enable specialized speech-language pathologists to successfully implement empirically-proven early identification, assessment, and intervention procedures. With an understanding of the differences between typical development and atypical development, child language professionals are uniquely suited to determine who needs help, when to provide it, and what to do.

For these children, having experts “talking about their talking” is the first step on the path to a brighter future.

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