The ability to communicate with others is critical to a young child's development and it is a prerequisite to academic learning, yet some children have disorders that interfere with various aspects of their abilities to communicate. This digest discusses various types of communication disorders, their incidence, the learning difficulties associated with them, the special case of English language learners, and the educational significance of communication disorders.
Communication disorders may result from many different conditions. For example, language-based learning disabilities are the result of a difference in brain structure present at birth. This particular difficulty may be genetically based. Other communication disorders stem from oral-motor difficulties (e.g., an apraxia or dysarthia of speech), aphasias (difficulties resulting from a stroke which may involve motor, speech and/or language problems), traumatic brain injuries, and stuttering, which is now believed to be a neurological deficit. The most common conditions that affect children's communication include language-based learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, cerebral palsy, mental disabilities, cleft lip or palate, and autism spectrum disorders.
Many communication problems can be improved by therapy. Some problems may never be "cured," but children can learn new strategies to overcome their difficulties (e.g., attention deficit or stuttering). Some children may be able to overcome their deficits as they grow older (e.g., mild language delays), while others may compensate by communicating through electronic means (e.g., an augmentative communication device or hearing aid).
It is often difficult for teachers to tell if these students have a disability or problems resulting from acculturation and language learning. Code switching or code mixing, i.e., mixing two languages in the same sentence or paragraph, is a natural second language phenomenon-it is not indicative of a language disorder. Most bilingual speakers code switch or code mix. An example of code switching by a teacher follows.
The teacher utilizes English, Spanish, and French to illustrate her point:
* What language is mille lacs (one thousand lakes)? Do you know what that means? What does mille (thousand) mean? 'Mille' (French word for one thousand) means mil (Spanish word for one thousand). Lacs (French word for lakes) means lagos (Spanish word for lakes).
Children who speak English as a second language or speak another dialect do not have a disorder simply because of their different dialect or language. However, to diagnose an English language learner with a communication disorder requires that symptoms of the disorder be present in both languages or dialects.
Speech-language pathologists in schools thus face the challenge of how best to provide services for students who are learning the English language. The issue is compounded when monolingual pathologists must provide services to students from bilingual homes.
Students with communication disorders are capable of high academic success if they learn the classroom's social, language, and learning patterns. Teachers and speech-language pathologists should focus their attention on classroom interactions and the language and communications used within the school in order to help students learn to communicate in these environments. Explicit language and communication planning as well as non-deliberate language use (e.g., unconscious choice of language) are important features of the school and class environments that provide opportunities for teaching and learning.
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Hall, B. J., Oyer, H. J., & Haas, W. H. (2001). Speech, language and hearing disorders. A guide for the teacher (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Hegde, M. N. (1995). Introduction to communication disorders (2nd ed.). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
Leeper, L. H., & Gotthoffer, D. (2000). Quick guide to the Internet for speech-language pathology and audiology. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Lue, M. S. (2001). A survey of communication disorders for the classroom teacher. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Nicolosi, L., Harryman, E., & Kresheck, J. (1996). Terminology of communication disorders (4th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins.
Owens, R. E., Metz, D. E., & Haas, A. (2000). Introduction to communication disorders. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Roseberry-McKibbin, C., & Hegde, M. N. (2000). An advanced review of speech-language pathology. Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. (2001). Twenty-second annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 10801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852, 301-897-5700 http://www.professional.asha.org/
The National Association of the Deaf, 814 Thayer Avenue Silver Spring, MD 20910-4500, 301-587-1788 (Voice), 301-587-1789 (TTY). http://www.nad.org/
National Institute on Deafness & Other Communication Disorders, 3 National Institutes of Health, 31 Center Drive, MSC 2320, Bethesda, MD 20892-2320. http:/www.nidcd.nih.gov/
Net Connections for Communication Disorders and Sciences. An Internet Guide (http://www.mankato.msus.edu/dept/comdis/ kuster2/welcome.html) by Judith Maginnis Kuster. This site includes valuable resources for professionals and students in communication disorders and sciences as well as for persons with communication disorders.
Providing Speech-Language Pathologists Materials and Research: Issues of Cultural and Linguistic Diversity (CLD) (http://www.asha.ucf.edu) is a site from the University of Central Florida awarded an ASHA Office of Multicultural Affairs grant.
The Network on Multicultural Communication Sciences and Disorders (http://www.utexas.edu/coc/csd/multicultural/network/ home.htm) is a site from the University of Texas at Austin that provides "information and links related to universities and training programs, research and funding, and resources".