Having a child with a developmental delay can be a very scary experience for a parent.
In a culture that values academic success more and more highly and measures it at younger and younger ages, any type of deficiency in academic ability can become blown out of proportion.
On the other hand, the impulse to provide a child the highest quality education is a very natural parental impulse. So long as it does not become unreasonable, taking a keen interest in the child's intellectual development from a young age is one of the most important parts of a parent's job.
Unfortunately, however, even parents with the best intentions often feel ill-equipped to help their children overcome language abnormalities. Every child is different, and it can often times feel impossible to truly understand the difference between a slight difficulty in a serious delay.
For example, when a slight speech impediment keeps your child from being able to read fluently, it could perhaps be nothing more than an innocuous (and undeniably cute) little developmental hiccup. That same speech impediment, though, might also mask a delay in reading ability that could potentially lead to serious consequences down the road.
In this context, it becomes important to understand the differences between the different types of developmental disorders in the realm of reading, speech, and language.
Let’s take a look at these three realms specifically, with an eye to understand the differences between the three, how they are diagnosed, and what you should do for your child.
The Difference Between Speaking, Reading, and Using Language
At first glance, speaking, reading and using language all seem to be different sides of the same coin. But upon closer review, the relationship between the three is strikingly complex, particularly during the ages in which all three abilities begin to develop.
Specifically, most childhood language use disorders fall into three distinct diagnostic categories: language impairment, reading disability, and speech sound disorder.
Let's take a look at each of these individually.
With these three definitions in mind, two things become immediately apparent.
First, it is clear that the three different developmental language disorders are distinct. A child could have one of the three without having the other two.
Second, it is clear that diagnosing a child with one of the three disorders independently of the other two would not be straightforward, particularly at certain ages.
Let’s take a look at this second point more specifically, on the difficulties with diagnosis.
Difficulties with Diagnosis
Speech language pathologists often have a difficult task ahead of them when trying to diagnose a young child who clearly has language difficulties.
For example, it would be impossible to ascertain if a child has a reading disability before they have been instructed how to read. However, the very act of instructing a child how to read might be difficult and/or delayed if a child had language impairment.
Furthermore, as we mentioned in the introduction above, a child's difficulties in producing spoken language while reading (caused by a speech sound disorder) could potentially cloud a parent’s ability to judge whether their child is developing reading skills at the appropriate pace.
To be even more specific, consider the possible causes for a speech sound disorder, as presented in an article called “Relations Among Speech, Language, and Reading Disorders,” by researchers Bruce Pennington and Dorothy Bishop.
The authors write that causes for a speech sound disorder could include difficulties processing sounds, motor problems with planning and producing the movements necessary for speech, brain issues involving the mapping between motor planning and speech production, difficulties identifying the differences between similar sounding speech patterns, or some combination of any of these causes.
So in summary, not only could a child have language impairment without a reading disorder, a speech sound disorder without language impairment, or any other combination of these three, but it is also difficult to separate out the different causes that would prompt one of the three diagnosis.
And as if all of this complexity wasn't enough, the issue can be further complicated by introducing other developmental or cognitive disorders. In the case of ADHD, the authors explicitly state:
“One can readily imagine that a child might appear to be inattentive or hyperactive in the classroom because of the frustration elicited by difficulties with reading rather than as a consequence of the neurocognitive difficulties that are typically associated with ADHD in the absence of [reading disability].” ~Pennington & Bishop, 299
The Takeaway for You and Your Child
Despite the occasionally overwhelming complexity, any experienced parent knows that children are very resilient. The way in which they constantly grow and improve despite obstacles never ceases to amaze.
A parent's response when faced with facing a situation of a child struggling with some type of language difficulty should not be to run away from the complexity and give up. It can be easy to settle on the quickest and easiest diagnosis and hide behind that label.
And while a close relationship with a trusted, capable speech-language pathologist can certainly go a long way towards getting your child the attention he or she deserves, in the end it is the parents that know best what specific difficulties the child has, and what they can do in response.
No matter the situation, there are always activities and exercises that you can do with your child that will hone in on the specific problems they have.
As with all things in parenting, the more individual attention you can give your child, the more able they will be to overcome individual difficulties and develop into healthy, thriving adults.
In the immortal words of Albert Einstein, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want your children to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Pennington, B. F., & Bishop, D. V. (2009). Relations Among Speech, Language, and Reading Disorders. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 283-306.
Now that snow is finally here, are you wondering what to do with all the wonderful white stuff? How about making use of our children’s enthusiasm for some fun and educational snow-filled speech and language learning? Read on for free speech-language activities for home, daycare, or school use!
Speech Developement (Young Child)
In this section, here are some simple but effective resources to help your preschooler model the correct production of “s” blends.
Let's look at a preschooler who literally says “no” for “snow”. This is the child exclaiming “no, no” at the first snowfall, when you know they really mean “Look at the snow!” You may not have the training and experience to directly help this child correct their speech, but there is much to be said for modeling – over and over and over! What better time to model “sn” blend words than at the beginning of winter! In fact, since omission of the “n” in the “sn” blend is likely part of the larger speech process of omitting “s” from “s” blends in words (e.g., “no” for “snow”, “ poon” for “spoon”, “ wim” for “swim”, “ top” for “stop”, “ mile” for “smile”), you can have fun bombarding your child with lots of “s” blend words (speech-language pathologists call this “auditory bombardment.”).
Reading books is a great place to start – simply say the “s” blend part of words a little louder and a little longer. For example, “Sadie and the Snowman” (Allen Morgan) is a wonderful little book for this, and it also discusses the concept of “melting.” Of course, go outside and enjoy the real snow while slightly exaggerating the “s” blend in “snow”, “snowball”, “snowman”, “stack” (the snowballs up), “smile”, etc.
One of the challenges in language development is learning how to describe an order of events or how to describe a sequence. Teaching a child to learn how to describe an order of events can be fun for everyone.
Building a snowman is a great activity to develop this sequencing skill. Use words such as “first”, “then”, and “next.” Even dressing to go outside is a sequence, and sometimes quite a time-consuming one at that! First the child puts on their ski pants, then their jacket, mitts, boots, scarf, hood/hat, etc.
You can also use the memory of an event to help a child learn to describe a sequence. When you’re building the snowman, take picture of the events as the progress. Use “feeling” words to describe the fun you have, and later review the pictures, helping the child commit the experience and associated feelings to memory.
For example, “We went sledding. We climbed up the hill. It was a loooong way up. But then we got to slide down. It was so much fun! We were going so fast, it was almost scary! I even fell off once, but I was not hurt. Nobody wanted to stop. We slid down the hill many times! By the time we were done, we were tired and cold, but we had had a great time! Then we went inside and had hot chocolate. That warmed us up quickly!”
Resources For Helping Your Child Learn Language
Sometimes it can be difficult to get ideas on how to engage a child in how to pronouce words properly or even build their vocabulary. Here are some resources to help you along the way.
by Aileen Fisher
I used to think that snow was white.
And then, I saw it blue one night.
And then, I saw it gold one day, with purple shadows and with gray.
And then, one morning it was pink.
So now I don’t know what to think.
All About Me: Verses I Can Read selected by Leland B. Jacobs (Illinois: Garrard Publishing Company, 1971. 32)
Playing in the Snow
I want to play in the snow,
So I put on my boots and hat
[PUT ON BOOTS AND HAT.]
My soft, warm, cuddly coat
[PUT ON COAT.]
Zips up the front like that!
from Marie Hibma Frost’s Preschool Teachers’ How-to Book: Action Rhymes (Chicago: Moody Press, 1973. 14)
Chubby Little Snowman
A chubby little snowman
[arms around your belly]
Had a carrot nose
[point to nose]
Along came a bunny
[fingers pointed like bunny ears…hop, hop]
And what do you supposed?
[fingers still like ears, stop hopping]
That hungry little bunny
[peer to the left]
Looking for his lunch
[peer to the right]
Ate that snowman’s nose with a
[grab carrot nose and hold to mouth]
[munch carrot… jump up with hands high on ‘CRUNCH’!]
(pg. 10 of Winnipeg Public Library’s Rhymes for Babies and Toddlers, CW1058: 2006 10)
See coloring page at http://www.dltk-holidays.com/xmas/chubbysnowmanpoem.htm.
By Kimberly Wiebe, M.Sc., RSLP, CCC-SLP
Archer, Cheryl. Snow Watch: Experiments, Activities and Things to Do with Snow. Toronto: Kids Can Press Ltd., 1994.
Cole, Joanna. The Magic School Bus to the Rescue: Blizzard. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2002.
Fisher, Aileen. “Snow Color.” All About Me: Verses I Can Read. Ed. Leland B. Jacobs. Illinois: Garrard Publishing Company, 1971. 32.
Frost, Marie Hibma. “Playing in the Snow.” Preschool Teachers’ How-to Book: Action Rhymes. Chicago: Moody Press, 1973. 14.
Morgan, Allen. Sadie and the Snowman. Toronto: Kids Can Press Ltd., 1985.
Motuz, Stephannie. “Personal Episodic Knowledge: Memory Management” Getting to Guiding (for Professionals), 24 November 2014, Rehabilitation Centre for Children, Winnipeg, MB. Workshop/Course Presentation.
Prest, Ashley. “Broken Snowfall Record Stands: Environment Canada.” Winnipeg Free Press. N.p., 23 Nov. 2016. Web 24 Nov. 2016.
Winnipeg Public Library. Community Services Department. “A Chubby Little Snowman.” Rhymes for Babies and Toddlers. CW1058: 2006 10. 10.