Identifying Language Deficits and Disorders

How to Spot Language Deficits in Students

Frustrated boy doing homework
Frustrated boy doing homework. Getty Images/Jupiterimages/Photolibrary

What Are Language Deficits?

Language deficits are problems with age-appropriate reading, spelling and writing. The language disorder that comes most readily to mind is dyslexia, which is a difficulty in learning to read. But many students who have problems with reading have spoken language problems as well, and for that reason, language deficits or language disorders are the more inclusive ways to speak about these issues.

Where Do Language Disorders Come From?

Language disorders are rooted in the brain's development, and are often present at birth. Many language disorders are hereditary. Language deficits do not reflect intelligence. In fact, many students with language deficits are of average or above-average intelligence.

How Can Teachers Spot a Language Deficit?

For teachers, spotting language deficits in students is the first step in addressing issues that can impact the way these children function in the classroom and at home. Without proper intervention, these children will often be at a significant disadvantage. Use this list of common symptoms to help identify children who may be subject to language delays. Then, follow up with parents and professionals such as a speech language pathologist.

  • The student has difficulty expressing ideas clearly. Her answers can be vague and difficult to understand. He may have trouble remembering a word in conversation, and use place-holders like "um" or "uh" in excess.
  • Learning new vocabulary from reading or from lecturing is difficult. 
  • Understanding questions and following spoken or written directions is a challenge.
  • Child has trouble recalling numbers in sequence, such as telephone numbers.
  • Comprehension of written or spoken stories or lessons is weak, and little is retained. 
  • The student's reading comprehension is poor. 
  • Child has difficulty remembering the words to songs and rhymes.
  • Directionality: Can the child easily tell left from right?
  • Difficulty learning letters and numbers, and the sounds that correspond to letters.
  • The student often mixes up the order of letters in words while writing.
  • Child has difficulty distinguishing between foreground and background noise.

How are Language Disorders Diagnosed?

If a teacher suspects that a student is exhibiting language deficits, it's important to support that child early, as the gaps in learning will only increase over time. The teacher and parents or caregivers should meet with a speech-language pathologist, who can evaluate spoken and written language ability. 

Common Language-Based Disorders

Dyslexia, or difficulty learning to read, is only one of the more common language-based disorders that teachers may encounter. Others include:

  • Auditory Processing Disorder: Children may not be able to distinguish different sounds, and may have difficulty filtering out background noises.
  • Dysgraphia: Affects writing and fine motor coordination.
  • Language Processing Disorder: Students have difficulty attaching meaning to the sounds of language. Distinguished from ADP as it only pertains to the sounds of words and sentences.
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities: These are characterized by strong discrepancies between verbal skills and motor, spatial, or social skills, as may be seen in autistic children previously known as Asperger's.