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SLP - Language Impairments

Language Impairments

The "language" part of "speech-language pathology" is often misunderstood. However, it's one of the most important parts of our job. A good way to consider an SLP's role in language is to break it down into three general areas: Content, Form, and Use.

"Content," refers to the meaning of language. This generally happens at the word level, like how big a child's vocabulary is or how they understand the different meanings that words can have. A child with a Language Impairment may have a difficult time learning new words, understanding different language concepts, following complex directions, or catching on to the nuances of the different ways we can use one word.

"Form" refers to the rules we use to put words and sentences together. For example, a child with a Language Impairment may have a harder time learning things like irregular verbs, ("I goed to school," vs. "I went to school."). Appropriate word order can also be tricky, ("You can pick it up." = Statement / "Can you pick it up?" = Question). Understanding or organizing sentence, narrative, or text structures may also be difficult for these children.

"Use" has to do with the social aspects of language. This is sometimes called "pragmatics." This covers a pretty wide range of issues such as:

  • Giving enough information when speaking to someone else
  • Staying on a conversational topic
  • Knowing how to change the topic
  • Monitoring volume and eye contact.

In some ways, providing telepractice services to children with Language Impairments can be even more straightforward than it is when working with some Speech Impairments. There is less need to discriminate subtle speech sounds and muscle movement. There is an enormous amount of resources to support language through digital workbooks, software programs, and online activities.

Perhaps because language therapy seems a little more straightforward, the research that supports it isn't currently as robust as it is for other areas of intervention. There is a lot of anecdotal and clinical experience in the field that tells us children can make gains through telepractice treatment. However, the formal research that has been done to date only looks at the effectiveness of language assessment through telepractice. Fairweather et al. (2004) reported success using formal and informal language assessments through on-site and telepractice means. Waite et al. also found that students could effectively be evaluated for language (2010a), and literacy skills (2010b), through telepractice. While this is different than evidence on the effectiveness of treatment, it does hold promise that future findings on intervention may be positive.

Coordinated efforts between telepractice SLPs, families, and educators are helping children every day. Given the right team of a skilled telepractice SLP, engaged parents and teachers, state-of-the-art technology, and responsive technical support, children with Language Impairments can improve their ability to understand and express themselves effectively.

  • Fairweather, C.; Parkin, M.; Roza, M. (2004). Speech and language assessment in school-aged children via videoconferencing. Paper presented at the 26th World Congress of the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics, Brisbane, Australia.
  • Waite, M., Theodoros, D. G., Russell, T., Cahill, L. ( 2010a). Internet-based telehealth assessment of language using the CELF-4. Language Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 41, 445– 458.
  • Waite, M., Theodoros, D. G., Russell, T., Cahill, L. ( 2010b). Assessing children’s literacy via an Internet-based telehealth system. Telemedicine and e-Health, 16, 564– 575.

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