Thinking about Language Disorders

From time to time I write letters to our local leaders highlighting areas of need/success and research with a hopes to inform the development of policies that benefit the populations I serve.  Here is an edited version of what I sent

To whom it concerns;

I would like to some key information that I professionally believe should be considered in any future educational policies.  I was inspired to write this letter after taking an online PLD course by Dr Vicki A Reed.  I'd like to give her due credit for her work summarising this information over the course of her career and her recent ASHA webinar.

Key points:

  • 7% of all children have specific language disorder (in process of being renamed developmental language disorder, Bishop et al 2016, RCSTL summary) - This number is based on Tomblin's 1997 work and has been confirmed by others. 
  • We have been aware of the size of this group for many years, but systematic planning for this group of students has been limited.
  • This is a persistent condition - Language disorder can be accomodated and responds to intervention, but it doesn't go away. Many longitudinal studies have shown that children with language disorders (not delays, disorders) continue to have moderate-severe language disorders in their teens and adulthood
  • The disorder results in struggles to access and utilise language learning opportunities. Just providing good language models isn't enough. The nature of this condition requires learners to have extra time and explicit instruction on how to analyse language patterns and cope with the ever increasing linguistic demands as they progress through the school system
  • “...approximately 50% of the  kindergarten children with .. language impairment could be  considered to have a reading disability  in second and fourth grades. This rate is  about six times {than}  that  found for the non-impaired control  group.” (Catts et al., 2002, p. 1152)
  • Receptive language (understanding language) is most strongly linked to poor reading/social emotional outcomes, followed by expressive language (producing language) followed by speech sound disorders. 
  • In contrast to the above point, intervention resources tend to focus on speech sound disorders over expressive and receptive language impairments (Zang & Tomblin, 2000)
  • There are several high risk transitions for students, which corresponds to a decrease in specialised support within the NZ system.  This is a wait-and-fail approach:
    • Starting school
    • Year 1 to year 2
    • Around age 9 (maths starts having word problems, students starting reading to learn (Chall 1996), language is less about telling narratives and more about expository forms, etc)
    • Starting intermediate - students are expected to have 'learning skills' well estabilish, they need to manage the different 'languages' of each subject, massive increase in literacy/language demands, etc
    • High school - massive increase in academic and social linguistic demands
  • Langauge disorder have massive impacts on behaviour, academic success, and mental health
  • It is linked to involvement with the justice system
  • Language disorder is linked many things that are linked to suicide.  People in my field strongly suspect a direct connection, but there have been few studies have directly investigated this question

Vicki A Reed has written a solid summary chapter on the topic. It can be downloaded for free from the publisher her -