Jeanne Tighe, M.A., CCC-SLP, BCS-CL
Clinical Director, Beyond Communication, LLC
“He can seem tuned out when adults are talking.”
“She hovers around the other girls but when they’re all chatting, she can’t break into the conversation.”
“The teachers love him for his sweet personality, but they don’t always see that he’s not understanding like the other kids.”
Language is Everywhere in School
School is a challenging place for children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). Almost everything that happens at school involves language. Children with DLD must use language to follow classroom dialogue and social conversations. They need to remember and understand instructions that teachers give. They need to put words together to express their knowledge, ideas, and opinions. These steps are easy for typically developing children but can be hard for children with DLD. When language demands become overwhelming, children with DLD can appear inattentive, withdrawn, or uncooperative. It can be difficult for teachers to tell the difference between language breakdowns and other causes of struggle in the classroom.
Differing Perceptions of DLD
Parents, teachers, and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) may think about childhood language challenges in different ways. Your child’s teacher likely learned about language disorders using a different term than DLD. They may have met other children with language challenges that look different than what your child experiences. Also, children with DLD are often educated in classes with students with other learning, social, and behavioral challenges. Some teachers may interpret your child’s difficulties through the lens of other developmental disorders. Sharing your perspective on your child with teachers in a clear, direct way early in the school year can help you develop shared priorities that you can then revisit over the course of the year.
Sharing a Handout
One way parents can help support their child’s school experience is by starting conversations with teachers about their child’s language disorder. This printable handout was designed to support parents in providing teachers with an introduction to their child’s communication style. The first page lists a variety of common signs of DLD. The second page presents a set of frequently helpful classroom communication strategies. Not all children with DLD experience the same communication strengths and weaknesses, so the signs and strategies are presented as points for parents to consider. Parents can check the boxes for the signs that are true for their child and strategies that have helped their child in the past. There are also blank spaces on both pages to allow parents to add additional points that are unique to their child. Parents can complete the form and share the completed handout with teachers.
Another way to use this sheet is for parents and teachers to go over a blank form together so both parties can share their own observations. If your child is working with a speech-language pathologist (SLP), your SLP can help you customize and share the handout. Emailing the handout to your child’s teacher is a great start, but also plan to follow up with live conversations when possible. The signs and strategies listed on the handout can serve as useful discussion points during parent-teacher conferences or team meetings.
DLD can certainly cause bumps in the road at school, but open communication between the important adults in the child’s life can make the ride a bit smoother.
- Gallagher, A. L., Murphy, C.-A., Conway, P., & Perry, A. (2019). Consequential differences in perspectives and practices concerning children with developmental language disorders: An integrative review. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 54(4), 529–552. https://doi.org/10.1111/1460-6984.12469
- Christopulos, T. T., & Kean, J. (2020). General Education Teachers’ Contribution to the Identification of Children with Language Disorders. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 5(4), 770–781. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_PERSP-19-00166
- Nelson, N. W. (2010). Language and Literacy Disorders: Infancy through Adolescence. Pearson Education, Inc.
- Ashman, G., & Snow, P. (2019). Oral Language Competence: How It Relates to Classroom Behavior. American Educator, 43(2), 37–41.