Language processing refers to the ability to attach meaning to auditory (what we hear) information and formulate a response that is either spoken or written. It is an extremely important skill that affects many areas of a child’s life, so it is critical that it is correctly identified and effectively addressed. 


A Language Processing Disorder (LPD) usually exists in a subset of children diagnosed with learning disabilities. Approximately 80% of learning disabilities are founded in language difficulties, quite often language processing disorders.


Symptoms of a Language Processing Disorder (LPD)

.There are a range of symptoms related to a LPD. The list of symptoms is not necessarily inclusive, nor is any one child with a LPD expected to have all of them:


1. Problems with retrieval of common words

One of the most frequently reported characteristics in LPD is word retrieval problems. The child will often:

  • use neutral, generic and/or non specific labels

  • misuse words with a similar sounding structure

  • generate creative, original language terms, describe and/or circumlocute (talk in a 'round about' or indirect way)


NOTE: The problem is not retrieval if the vocabulary term has not been learned. If the child doesn't have knowledge of the word, then the problem is actually a language acquisition problem.


2. Slow to make a response; use of fillers to 'buy time'

Moving language through the brain cortex for processing until a response can be formulated takes time for children with a LPD. Some children keep the conversation flowing by using words such as 'you know', 'um', 'like' and other 'fillers' to keep their turn in the conversation until they are ready to respond.


3. Frequently says "I don't know" or "I forget"

The normal time it takes for 'question - response' is approximately 2 - 4 seconds., which generally isn't long enough for children with a LPD. To reduce anxiety and negative peer pressure, they will often say  "I don't know' or 'I forget''.


4. Verbal repetition or rehearsal

Children with a LPD often mumble or talk' to themselves as a compensatory strategy. They are in fact trying to keep the auditory message fresh in their short-term memory until they can attach meaning to it or decode it.


5. Inconsistency in learning and require extensive review of previously learned material

Children with LPD often have difficulty with organised storage of new information into long-term memory for later use. It is therefore often not available for retrieval and use the next day. The content often needs to be taught over and over again or requires extensive review to reach the place they were yesterday.


6. Recognises language errors but can't fix them

When a child with a LPD is given feedback regarding an error, they will usually recognise the error but won't know how to correct it.


7. Incomplete sentences or thoughts

Children with LPD will often not finish their sentences. They will also give disjointed pieces of information that may have meaning to them, but the context isn't always clear to the listener. The same pattern can occur in written expression.


8. Pragmatic Problems; disruptive behaviour

Disruptive, inappropriate behaviour is a frequent secondary characteristic of LPD. The rules for social interaction are often subtle and revolve around nuances of language and underlying meanings. This can make it difficult for children with a LPD to make sense of it.


Children with broad language processing deficits may also have problems with reading comprehension even when they can decode words accurately. Children with severe language disorders will almost certainly have difficulty reading and writing.


Assessing your child's language processing skills

At Brain & Language Connections our comprehensive assessment of your child's language processing skills (which is different from an assessment of their language development skills) helps determine whether or not they have a LPD and to what degree the problem exists.


In order to have a language processing disorder, the child must:

  • have acquired the prerequisite vocabulary knowledge in order to attach meaning to the auditory signal. If not, then it is most likely a language acquisition problem rather than a LPD

  • have normal/near normal acquisition of basic receptive/expressive language skills

  • have normal/near normal intellectual functioning

  • have normal/near normal hearing acuity


As language processing abilities develop in a hierarchy of increased cognitive complexity, the assessment of language processing starts at the simplest level (i.e. sounds) right through to the most complex level (i.e. conversation). Auditory memory and word retrieval skills are also assessed to determine their influence on the results.

Language Processing

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