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January 11, 2021

Understanding Language Processing Disorder

Have you ever found yourself stuck suddenly trying to remember a simple word that you use almost every day? Or maybe you’ve struggled to understand a set of directions or a story that keeps going over your head.

These are common experiences to have briefly, but they can be a constant and debilitating reality for those with language processing disorder. Students with language processing disorder may need extra support to understand the material they’re given and to get the most from their class.

Language Processing Disorder Defined

Language processing disorder (LPD) is “an impairment that negatively impacts communication through spoken language.” An estimated 5% of children in the United States experience some kind of LPD, and more than 1 million students receive special education to help with a language processing disorder. Many more go undiagnosed because the symptoms are not necessarily obvious and are often mistaken for social awkwardness.

The longer LPD goes undiagnosed and untreated, the more it can impact students’ lives. It may make it difficult to form friendships or socialize with other students. It might cause their grades to slip as they struggle to process lessons or instructions. It can even cause behavioral issues, as students may become so frustrated with their LPD that they lash out at other students or teachers.

It’s important for educators to understand LPD and be able to spot the signs so they can better support their students. To begin, it’s necessary to know the difference between the two different kinds of LPD: expressive and receptive.

Differentiating Expressive and Receptive Language Disorder

Language goes two ways: We receive language, and we express it. Similarly, there are two ways that one could struggle with processing language. Those with expressive language disorder struggle to articulate their thinking. They may have a slow and difficult time finding the right words to communicate their thoughts or explaining their thoughts in a way that others can understand.

Those with receptive language disorder struggle to process the spoken language around them. They may have a hard time following spoken directions or listening to a story. They may spend minutes listening to someone speak only to realize that they haven’t processed any of it.

In some cases, however, students might experience mixed expressive–receptive language disorders. In other words, they struggle to both express their thoughts through language and process the language around them.

How to Spot Language Processing Disorder

LPDs can be debilitating for students, which is why educators must be able to spot the symptoms in order to fully support these students. The symptoms will vary depending on whether students have an expressive language disorder or a receptive language disorder.

Students with an expressive language disorder may seem to be constantly tripping over their words. They may struggle with reading and writing, but have an easier time with imagery. On the other hand, a receptive language disorder can sometimes be mistaken for inattentiveness, especially when it comes to lectures or conversations.

Know the symptoms of both so that you can better understand what your students are dealing with, including:

Symptoms of Expressive Language Disorders

  • Feeling as though a word is on the tip of one’s tongue
  • Inability to remember even commonly used words, but might be able to illustrate it
  • Frustration during conversations over the inability to verbalize one’s thoughts
  • A limited vocabulary, both verbally and in writing
  • Struggling with reading comprehension and writing skills
  • Responding with something that seems off-topic
  • Leaving words out, mixing up the order of words, or misusing word tenses
  • Misunderstanding jokes or sarcasm frequently
  • Taking long periods of time to answer a question

Symptoms of Receptive Language Disorders

  • Frequently seeming as though one isn’t listening
  • Difficulty following or understanding instructions
  • Struggling to follow long or complex sentences
  • The appearance of disinterest when it comes to lectures or readings

Especially in the case of receptive language disorders, it may seem as though students are disinterested or inattentive. However, if the issue comes up frequently enough and causes their performance to suffer, it might be due to a receptive language disorder.

Classroom Strategies for Students with LPD

The best classroom strategy to use will depend on the kind of LPD students have, as well as the individual student. Educators may have to try multiple strategies, as well as work with students’ families to come up with the best plan. In some cases, an IEP might help to accommodate a student’s learning differences.

However, even in a traditional classroom, there are steps that teachers can take to support students with LPD. Handy Handouts recommends strategies like:

  • Establish eye contact with students when speaking. The more visual the interaction, the better those with receptive language disorders will process it.
  • Mark important information by prefacing with “You’ll want to remember this” or “this is important” or “listen.” Be consistent with whatever cue you choose to use. If students with LPD seem not to be paying attention, make sure to use the cue along with their name to bring them back.
  • Students with LPD can struggle to pay attention and take notes, so make sure they have a study guide, teacher’s notes, or can share notes with another student. Another strategy is to allow them to record lessons.
  • Review previous information before moving on to a new activity, and give students with LPD time to adjust to the new activity.
  • Allow students with LPD to sit close to the teacher, no further than 8 feet away, and away from distractions such as doors or windows. Make sure they have quiet, isolated places to study.
  • Speak loudly and clearly, and vary your volume to better hold the attention of students with receptive language disorders.
  • Ask students questions to gauge their understanding of the lesson, and encourage them to ask questions as well.
  • Offer positive feedback so students with LPD aren’t as overwhelmed with frustration.
  • Give parents a guide so that they can help their children with their homework.
  • Provide short breaks between each activity to keep students refreshed and focused.
  • Label any bins for homework, assignments, folders, etc. with clear cue cards.
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