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Receptive language (comprehension) difficulty

Difficulties in comprehension can be easily missed in the school-aged child. Parents may not realize how much such a child does not understand, because he copes by using non-verbal clues. At home, the child may use the context to infer what is required of him. Many parents are not aware how much they use facial expression and hand gestures to convey meaning to their child. At school the child may take his lead from the other children.

In a child with difficulties, such as those described in Vanessa at the beginning of this chapter, subtle difficulties in understanding can easily be interpreted as laziness or disobedience. They can also be interpreted as being due to a lack of intelligence. But comprehension is only one aspect of intelligence and children can have specific delays in language comprehension and have normal intelligence.

The typical pattern seen in children of school age with receptive language delay is that they miss or misinterpret some of what is said to them. Their difficulties may be confined to certain words, or classes of words, or certain concepts or grammatical structures.

Children with receptive language delay may be socially competent despite their difficulties. However, some are very shy and say little in the company of other children. Some appear slightly aloof and self-absorbed. These characteristics are related to their language difficulty, and usually disappear once this resolves.

Children with suspected receptive language delay should always have an assessment by a speech therapist. In addition, their hearing should be tested. They should also be examined by a doctor, as there are a number of rare medical conditions that cause receptive language delay.

The speech therapist will institute a programme to teach the child better language comprehension. He or she will find ways of teaching the meaning of words and grammatical structures.

How parents can help

Parents should reinforce the work carried out by the speech therapist. He or she will give you instructions on what to do at home. Parents have the opportunity to extend their child’s understanding of language in many different situations and environments.

When speaking to your child, always speak slowly and clearly, pausing after each phrase. Make certain he has understood; repeat what you have said if necessary. Praise appropriate responses. It may be necessary to use gestures if your child cannot understand; your speech therapist will advise you on whether this is appropriate.

Request that your child sits near the front of the class. Explain the nature of the problem to the teacher. It is best if the speech therapist also explains this to the teacher so that he or she gains an understanding of the child’s difficulties. This is important so that the child is not considered naughty when he does not understand instructions, and it also allows the teacher to incorporate language taught by the speech therapist in the child’s curriculum. It is also important that you encourage your child to tell the teacher when he does not understand something.

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