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Karla N. Washington, Ph.D.
University of Cincinnati

We communicate to be included with others and to learn. This happens so easily most of the time. We don’t stop to think about just how important good communication is to functioning in everyday life.

Children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) lack the basic language skills required to be good communicators. Their weak language skills interfere with communication and success in social and academic interactions. They might find it difficult to share a story with a friend or to answer a teacher’s question in the classroom. We call this functional communication, or sometimes communicative participation, and it can be challenging for those with DLD.

To illustrate this, here is a quick story. A speech-language pathologist works with a 4-year-old boy with DLD to help him form grammatically complete sentences, for example, saying “he is going home” instead of “him go home”. By speaking in sentences like other children his age, the boy will be able to communicate more effectively with family and friends. He will have better functional communication. One day the boy’s mother (with tears in her eyes) told the speech-language pathologist that he was invited to his friend’s birthday party! Together, they recognized two important outcomes from the work they had been doing. The boy’s spoken language skills improved and he was being included by his friends!

It is important to consider how DLD impacts a child’s functional communication and to find ways to help. Speech-language pathologists include measures of functional communication as part of their evaluation of DLD and intervention. Some of the tools used to measure functional communication are the: Focus on the Outcomes of Communication Under Six, Functional Communication Profile, Intelligibility in Context Scale, and National Outcome Measures System.

Ultimately, increasing a child’s ability to participate in everyday social and educational activities is an important— perhaps the most important—outcome of language intervention. Parents are an important source of information about a child’s functional communication needs. Discuss your child’s functional communication goals with your speech-language pathologist and how progress on those goals will be measured.


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