Learning Disabilities

How to Treat Language Processing Disorders

Language disorders are serious learning disabilities, but they are highly treatable — especially if you start early. Read on for different approaches to tackling language disorders with speech therapy — at school, at home, and in the workplace.

A mom imagines herself staying calm when talking to her angry child with ADHD.
A mom imagines herself staying calm when talking to her angry child with ADHD.

If you or your child has been diagnosed with a language processing disorder, it’s natural to feel worried. Communication is arguably the most critical human skill, and it’s understandable — especially for parents — to fear that someone who has fallen behind in language won’t succeed or develop meaningful relationships. But if you or your child has receptive or expressive language difficulties, don’t despair — competent speech therapists, proactive parents, and supportive bosses and friends can make a tremendous difference in helping anyone overcome a language disorder.

Though there isn’t a perfect “right age” to seek help, earlier is usually better. If you’re concerned, ask your doctor for a referral for a speech therapist, or find one through your child’s school, your state’s Early Intervention program, or your local university. The moment you receive a formal diagnosis of a language disorder, you have an opportunity to move forward — and set up the supports you or your child need to be successful.

[Self-Test: Language Processing Disorders in Adults]
[Self-Test: Language Processing Disorders in Children]

Treating Language Processing Disorders with Speech Therapy

Many parents of children with language disorders choose to pursue speech and language therapy through the public school system. Depending on the district, your child’s school may offer you a few options:

Individual therapy: This is best for severe language disorders that need one-on-one attention. Children with related conditions like ADHD or learning disabilities may also benefit most from individual therapy. This also works well for families with complex schedules that won’t allow for the more strictly scheduled group therapy session.

Group therapy: Group therapy can be the most helpful and productive option for many young children with language disorders. Since no two children with language disorders are the same, group therapy allows children to understand the challenges of others and work with people whose strengths and weaknesses differ from their own. It’s important that children work with others of their own age in group therapy — going to therapy with children significantly younger or older could damage a child’s self-esteem, cause him to become withdrawn, or be otherwise counterproductive.

In-class therapy: If you’re worried that your child will be bullied or miss valuable classroom time by going to speech therapy, talk to the school about in-class therapy options. Depending on the school’s size and resources, it may be possible for the speech therapist to come into your child’s classroom on a periodic basis and “team teach” alongside the teacher, tailoring lessons to help children with speech and language disorders.

Since most teachers aren’t formally trained in speech therapy — and the speech therapist most likely wouldn’t be able to come every day — this can feel like little more than a stopgap approach for children with normal IQs who would benefit from traditional therapy. For this reason, speech-language pathologist Patricia McAleer Hamaguchi, M.A., recommends team teaching only in cases of intellectual disabilities. The team teaching approach can help children with lower IQs simultaneously tackle their language disorders and learn social skills in a “natural” setting, as opposed to a more “clinical” therapy setting.

As your child grows, you will likely need to tweak the method of therapy he is receiving. Adolescents (particularly middle-school students) might be embarrassed about receiving speech therapy and begin to resist it — and in order for therapy to be effective, children must be active and willing participants. On top of that, your child might start to “plateau” around this age, and additional therapy won’t always bring further benefits. If your child’s progress seems to have slowed or he seems reluctant to talk about his therapy sessions, it could be time to call a meeting with your school’s special-ed team to re-evaluate his plan.

For adults with language disorders and good insurance — as well as parents who want to seek treatment outside of school — private practice speech therapists are also an option for treating language processing disorders. Private therapists pride themselves on being able to accommodate each patient’s specific needs, and will usually suggest seeing you or your child once or twice a week (compared to once a week at most in the public school system). As an added bonus, private therapists can often accommodate busy schedules without removing a child from the classroom or an adult from the workplace. A private therapist may also be able to suggest at-home exercises, and can reach out to a child’s teacher to suggest classroom strategies to help encourage language development.

Academic Interventions for Language Processing Disorders

While speech therapy is the most effective way to treat language disorders, there are things your child’s school can do to help her practice important skills. Talk to the school about accommodations like:

Help the child plan ahead. Children with expressive language disorders often struggle to answer questions on the spot. Teachers can help by warning the child in advance when he’ll be called on, so as to give him an opportunity to mentally prepare an answer.

Ask fewer open-ended questions. Giving a child either/or questions can help her demonstrate what she knows without having to interpret specifically what is being asked of her.

Model proper sentence structure, without correcting. If your child mixes up words or uses improper verb tenses, ask his teacher to get in the habit of repeating back answers using the correct form, instead of embarrassing the child by publicly pointing out mistakes.

At-Home Interventions for Language Processing Disorders

Alongside speech therapy, these simple things can help a child develop and retain language skills:

Talk or sing to your child as much as you can. Giving him plenty of opportunity to practice his language skills is the key to putting your child on a normal developmental track.

– If he struggles to find words, resist the urge to finish his sentences for him. This will help your child build confidence and learn that he can’t rely on you to communicate for him.

Educating yourself about your child’s difficulties is a huge first step, and can go a long way toward helping her adapt to and conquer her language difficulties.

Workplace Interventions for Language Processing Disorders

Language disorders can make it difficult for adults to know what’s expected of them at work or to communicate with their colleagues. If you have a language disorder, your employer can assist you by providing accommodations, including:

Provide meeting agendas ahead of time. Receiving the meeting agenda in advance will help you mentally prepare and avoid feeling blindsided by a question from your supervisor.

Give notice when the employee will be required to speak. If it’s necessary for you to give a presentation, ask that your boss give you a warning ahead of time so you can prepare your remarks and anticipate any questions that might come your way.

Allow written responses instead of verbal responses. Whenever possible, ask that your boss send you questions over email, instead of approaching your desk, so you can compose a well thought-out written response.

Speech therapy can be a slow process, for both children and adults, so it’s important that you advocate on your or your child’s behalf to get the accommodations that will allow you to succeed in the meantime. If it helps, connect with other adults or parents who are going through similar problems — they may be able to coach you through a difficult situation or point you toward helpful resources for tackling language disorders.