How to Support Children with Language Processing Disorders: A Parent’s Guide
Does your child have language processing disorder — including receptive language disorder, expressive language disorder, or a mix of both? Use this comprehensive guide to better understand LPD and help your child thrive in school, with friends, and at home.
Language processing disorder (LPD) is an umbrella term used to describe conditions that make language comprehension and expression difficult. Children with LPD may struggle to take in spoken information, to write and read, and to speak fluently – all of which can impact school performance, social interactions, and other aspects of life.
LPD also often co-occurs with ADHD and other conditions. Researchers, in fact, point to similarities between ADHD symptoms and language difficulties, positing that executive function challenges may underlie both.
LPD can be treated successfully with therapy and accommodations. Parents can also help their children by creating supportive environments and encouraging self-advocacy in the classroom and other realms.
Language Processing Disorder: At a Glance
LPD is divided into three categories:
- Expressive language disorder: Difficulty using words to communicate needs and ideas
- Receptive language disorder: Difficulty with understanding language
- Mixed expressive-receptive language disorder: Difficulty with both using and understanding language (most children have this type)
At the core of many types of LPD is slow processing speed, which refers to how long it takes to complete a task in a given period of time. Processing speed can be thought of as the “engine” that helps us use our executive function skills (like working memory, planning, organizing, and more). Children with slower language processing speed may exhibit some or all of the following:
- Slower reading fluency and writing speed
- Difficulty understanding directions, especially those said quickly or at stressful times
- Trouble sustaining attention due to the speed at which information is arriving
- Trouble completing tasks on time; prone to being distracted
- Problems with conversations and social interactions; difficulty understanding nonverbal cues
Since language is important in all types of settings, children often show problems in the classroom, home, and social situations. The problems look different, depending on a child’s age and stage of development.
LPD in School
- Can be slow to learn to read; may lack fluency when reading aloud
- May need additional time to respond in conversations; can be distracted during tasks
- May have difficulty taking notes in class or keeping up with the pace of lectures
- Frequently has grammatical errors in writing
- Often hesitant to participate in class discussions
- Can have trouble retrieving information from memory
LPD in Social Settings
- Takes longer to pick up on social cues; misses the point of conversations
- Can have awkward social interactions or take longer to figure out a response
- Loses track during a conversation or pretend play, causing frustration among peers
- Often disorganized in relaying stories
- May be slow to react to sarcasm and jokes
LPD at Home
- Can have trouble staying organized and getting started on tasks
- Often loses belongings
- Has difficulty with transitions
- Displays trouble with self-monitoring
Language Processing Disorder: How to Help Your Child in the Classroom and Beyond
Evaluation for LPD
A good evaluation can reveal your child’s specific issues with language processing, which could include vocabulary, receptive language, working memory, social communication, or or other communication skills.
Children are entitled to evaluations through their local public school, but there is also the option to be evaluated by a speech and language therapist or neuropsychologist in private practice. These specialists can refer you to other professionals if they observe further issues that could be affecting speech and language. If your child has ADHD, medication can be helpful in treating symptoms of inattention that can impact language or communication skills.
Speech and language therapists directly treat the underlying symptoms of LPD, such as articulation and fluency, comprehension, expression language, and social pragmatics. In addition, school and home accommodations are important.
School Accommodations for LPD
Talk to your child, you child’s teachers, and school administrators about the following strategies:
- Nonverbal signals. Ask your child’s teacher to use visual cues such as standing near your child or tapping your child’s desk before asking a question. This sort of behavioral cuing (the kind that most skilled teachers do naturally) is nearly impossible during remote learning, so it’s a good idea to ask your child’s teacher about how to help your child compensate for this difficulty.
- Neutral visuals. Simple, uncluttered rooms give your child less to process which can help with focusing.
- Provide extra time to respond in conversation or answer a question in class. Also allow your child to ask or email questions after class. Come up with templates that help your child express his or her thoughts and feelings, such as “I didn’t understand what happened in math class today because it went too fast for me.”
- Lesson outlines can help children follow along, even if they miss some of what is said. Outlines also reduce multitasking, which helps with processing.
- Downtime. Recess and rejuvenation time are important to keeping a child’s brain healthy and primed for learning.
LPD Strategies for Social Skills and Friendships
Language processing disorder can take a toll on friendships and connections. The following social language strategies can help your child navigate through these settings and experience more positive social interactions.
- Role play. Help your child anticipate what will be expected of them in various situations, and act out scenarios in advance. Try as much as possible to let children speak for themselves as opposed to intervening so that they can practice and build skills. For example, have them order for themselves at a restaurant, but prepare them in advance by thinking about what they like would like to eat while driving to the restaurant and then having ample time to examine the menu.
- Prompts. Have trusted friends or adults nearby to facilitate communication and point out cues and other “unspoken” parts of interactions.
- Focus. For some children with LPD, steady eye contact with the person who is speaking is helpful. Others might benefit from not making eye contact so that they can fully focus on the person’s words.
- Primary and secondary information. When children struggle to tell stories or talk about events, teach them the difference between what’s pertinent to the topic and what can be left out.
- “W questions.” To improve comprehension, have your child think about the who, why, what, and where when receiving information. These types of questions can also help children organize their thoughts prior to speaking.
- Clarification. Teach children appropriate ways to speak up if they lose track of what’s being said. At the same time, teach them to consciously observe social situations to glean unspoken information. This can also help them slow down when settings become complicated to read.
LPD Strategies for Home
You can help maximize your child’s processing abilities by working on other LPD-related issues at home:
- Change the way you talk. Modify your rate (speed), tone, and complexity when speaking to your child. If you are directing emotion toward a child, they will have to process that as well as your words, making it difficult to respond.
- Use actions and visuals. Don’t rely solely on verbal or written information when communicating with your child.
- Consistency. Keep things at the same place, at the same time, and on the same day. Simplifying things can help children feel less overwhelmed. Identify and minimize other household stressors that could be impeding your child’s processing abilities.
- Time awareness. While it may seem unrelated, time perception might be a struggle for children with a LPD., Teach your child how to read an analog clock – the visual representation can help a child “see” time pass.
Language Processing Disorder: Acceptance and Advocacy
Language processing disorder can carry emotional consequences. LPD-related problems in school, with friends, and at home can lead to additional stress, low self-esteem, perfectionist tendencies, low-motivation, and other issues.
Yelling, screaming, and (worst of all) accusing your child of being lazy never works. Understanding and accepting your child’s LPD is the first and most important step that will eventually allow for self-advocacy. Normalize your child’s differences – remind him or her that everyone does things a little differently. Talk to your child about others in your family who may have LPD. Teach your child that he or she has a stake in his or her education and in interactions with peers. It is never too late to receive help.
The content for this article was derived from the ADDitude Expert Webinar “A Parent’s Guide for Managing Language Processing Disorder” [Video Replay & Podcast #340]” with Ellen Braaten, Ph.D., which was broadcast live on January 26, 2021.
Language Processing Disorder: Next Steps
- Self-Test: Language Processing Disorders in Children
- Read: When It’s Not Just ADHD – Symptoms of Comorbid Conditions
- Download: Overcoming Common Learning Challenges
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