Child Language Impairments


Many of the clients in our clinic are children whose language ability is not at the level that you would expect for their age, cognitive ability and level of language exposure.

These children may have difficulty understanding spoken language (receptive language) or expressing their ideas (expressive language), or both. Some children will have difficulty using language to interact effectively with other children and/or adults.

These children may have some of the following problems:

  • Delay in onset or development of language skills, for example saying their first word, late in combining words into phrases or sentences
  • Difficulty following directions or in giving them.
    Problems understanding questions, eg., who, what, where, when, how
  • Difficulty understanding jokes, double meanings and abstract concepts when they are in primary school
  • Simpler sentence forms
  • Incorrect grammar such as problems with pronouns (her/she), tense (goed/went, walk/walked), or plurals
  • Difficulty remembering words, including everyday ones they know as well such as songs, nursery rhymes, days of the week, and people's names
  • Frequent use of non-specific words, eg. "stuff, thing"
  • Stories, both spoken and written, which are disjointed and miss details
  • Difficulty breaking language into its parts, eg,. identifying words in sentences or sounds in words
  • Difficulty with the social rules of conversation, eg., staying on the topic, taking turns, and letting the speaker know when they do not understand
  • Infrequently initiating conversation or topics. These children are often quiet and less responsive than their peers in conversation


Difficulty with language may not always be immediately obvious and in older children may show up in other ways, such as problems learning to read or not easily making friends with other children. Children with language problems often have a wide range of learning problems at school.

The following behaviours are often, but not always, signs of an underlying language impairment:

  • easily distracted
  • limited attention span
  • slower to respond or answer questions
  • slower to put thoughts together to express their ideas
  • seems vague or "turned off" sometimes disorganised behaviour
  • lack of planning and sequencing in actions or tasks
  • reading difficulties


How can a speech pathologist assist these children?

  • Initial visits to a speech pathologist involves comprehensive assessment of the child's communication abilities. This is conducted both formally, with the use of a range of standardised tests, and informally through observation in a variety of settings. Assessments can be requested by teachers, parents, psychologists, doctors and other specialists. These assessments are often used to support placement into special classes at school, to qualify a child for other special services, or as a part of a multidisciplinary assessment
  • Therapy involves setting specific individual goals for each child according to language needs and targeting these in both group and individual settings in the clinic and through school and home visits. Group, as well as individual therapy, is often very important for these children
  • Therapy provides an opportunity for the child to learn and achieve at an appropriate level, using motivating materials, both published and created by the speech pathologist. These skills are then generalised and developed further in the home and classroom


The Communication Disorders Treatment and Research Clinic offers:

  • Regular weekly individual and group therapy
  • Special intensive programs


Contact our clinic for more information.