Dismantling the Road Blocks to Speech and Language Disorders
Recognizing a language or speech disorder isn’t always easy. As SLPs, we often encounter barriers on the road to diagnosing and treating a language or speech disorder in children. At times it may feel as though we’re running into one roadblock after another. Some of those roadblocks are other developmental difficulties or disorders that mask language and speech disorders, while others may be environmental influences.
Finding the Clues to Language and Speech Disorders
Identifying language and speech disorders is somewhat like diagnosing a physical illness; you must weed through the signs and symptoms in order to come to the proper conclusion.
For example, if you see a doctor for a reoccurring headache, he or she will likely ask numerous questions and run a battery of tests before diagnosing you with a brain tumor or the flu. Both of these have the common symptom of a headache, but each of them has very different treatment plans.
Common problems or disorders that children with language and speech disorders may be misdiagnosed as:
- Behavior Problems
- Selective Mutism
- Hearing Problems
Each one of these may appear on their own or combined with a language or speech disorder. In the case of behavior issues, language or speech disorders are often missed in children who also display disruptive or negative behaviors. They have learned poor behavior skills to draw attention away from their speech or language problems so that they will not be subjected to teasing by their peers. A child with behavior problems may not be acting out intentionally; their disruptive behavior may be a reaction to frustration over not being able to communicate properly.
Language and speech disorders that stem from other issues can include:
- Prenatal Nutrition
- Premature Birth
- Genes and Family History/hereditary
- Down Syndrome
- Other Intellectual disabilities
Assembling a Team for Proper Diagnosis
Unless a child has an early diagnosis of a speech or language disorder, their communication problems may go untreated until they reach school. This is generally when problems arise with social and academic skills. Teachers are often the front line in noticing previously undiagnosed language and speech problems and can become an ally in working with the family to get proper treatment in place.
Cognitive assessments with a psychologist, hearing tests, and many others may be done by a pediatrician to rule out or diagnose other developmental problems. If a child has already been diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, or other learning disabilities, it will be important for the speech pathologist to coordinate with the intervention and specialist team members to include an evaluation for speech and language problems.
We often think of children with language and speech disorders as children who don’t speak or have extreme problems saying words, letters, or forming sentences, but we must caution to remember that speech and language disorders come in all shapes and sizes. A child with a speech or language disorder may simply struggle with handwriting or sequencing while another may have difficulty listening in class and understanding what has been read.
Speech and language disorders are much like the children who have them: individual and unique with their own set of characteristics.