Language-Based Learning Difficulties

What is a learning disability?

LanguageA learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. The term learning disability is used to describe the seemingly unexplained difficulty a person of at least average intelligence has in acquiring basic academic skills.

Many learning difficulties are language-based. In our school system, most information is taught via language – listening, speaking, reading and writing – so it is not surprising that otherwise intelligent students with language impairments fail to succeed. See below for some language development milestones.

What are some symptoms of language-based learning difficulties?

Your child may be experiencing language-based difficulties if they have trouble:

  • Thinking of the right word
  • Using grammar words properly
  • Using grammar words properly
  • Forming full sentences
  • Forming full, logical sentences
  • Linking ideas in paragraphs
  • Telling stories in a logical order
  • Spelling
  •  Understanding grammar
  • Decoding words
  • Comprehending information quickly
  • Making sense of sentences/paragraphs
  • Understanding sarcasm, jokes, etc.
  • “Reading between the lines”
  • Following conversations and directions
  • Reading quickly

How can a speech-language pathologist help?

Speech-language pathologists have a unique knowledge base of how cognition interacts with language. Speech-language pathologists help build core and compensatory language skills so that students won’t need to rely on tutors for all their work in the future.

Is there anything I can try myself?

Language-based learning difficulties tend to be complex to remediate, so it is best to obtain professional guidance.

What language skills should you expect?
By Age 5
  • Vocabulary consists of 2200-2500 words
  • Begins to know letter names and sounds as well as numbers and counting
  • Uses “when”, “so”, “if” to make sentences longer and more complex; adds descriptive details to sentences
  • Basic sentence forms acquired; uses regular past tense (e.g., he walked) and third person (e.g., he walks); uses pronouns herself, himself, yourselves
  • Recognizes and writes own name as well as some letters
Age 5-7
  • Uses vocabulary of 3,000-5,000 words
  • Beginning to use/understand passive sentences (e.g., the line was drawn) and learns exceptions to grammatical rules
  • Can match letters to sounds
  • Learning some sight words and can spell some words
  • Plays with sounds (e.g., Pig Latin)
Age 7-9
  • Learns new words via reading, not just conversation
  • Understands that there are multiple meaning words
  • Uses more figurative language (e.g., it’s raining cats and dogs)
  • Reading is more fluent; shifting toward comprehension as focus instead of sounding out (silent reading at a rate of 130 to 220 words per minute)
  • Speaking at a rate of 125-175 words per minute
  • Learns patterns in spelling
  • Complexity of written language matches spoken language
Age 9-12
  •  New learning is done via reading (focus of reading is now on comprehension)
  • Understands common idioms (e.g., “a piece of cake”, “go the extra mile”)
  • Increased variety and complexity of written sentences
  • Reading is efficient, automatic, fluent (silent reading at a rate of 180 to 300 words per minute)
Age 12-18
  •  Uses vocabulary of 10,000 words by end of high school
  • Written language more complex than spoken
  • Full range of adult grammar used and understood
  • Critical thinking and reading skills developed; can distinguish fact from opinion in writing
  • Silent reading at a rate of 250 to 450 words per minute
  • Speaking at a rate of 180 to 220 words per minute
  • Study skills developed