Specific Language Impairment
Difficulty solely with learning speech and language
Specific Language Impairment (SLI) affects up to 7% of 5 year - old children in school. Like all the other specific learning difficulties, it varies from mild to severe
In normal development, language learning has 4 components;
- learning to understand words, sentences and conversations (receptive language)
- learning to talk using words and sentences (expressive language)
- learning how to use language socially with others (pragmatic language)
- learning to form speech sounds correctly (articulation; weakness is often called verbal dyspraxia)
A child with SLI may have difficulty in some or all of these areas, and be very competent in other areas (such as building with Lego, drawing, practical tasks).
SLI is diagnosed by Speech and Language Therapists, often before the age of 5.
Once diagnosed, most children with SLI can be helped to speak more clearly with a programme of speech and language therapy, provided by the NHS and with home exercises. However, many have associated difficulties with learning to read, particularly with learning phonics (letter sounds) and with understanding texts. These children, although clever in other ways, do not make the expected progress in school.
In primary school, they may respond to just part of an instruction and find it hard to understand the meanings of words.
They may speak in single words or short sentences, sometimes with the words in the wrong order. They may have word finding difficulty and use “thingy’ or “you know” to express ideas. They may find it hard to make up stories, with events muddled in the wrong order. Their speech may be unclear, as they have not developed knowledge of sounds in the normal way. They may have difficulty in joining in socially with conversations, organizing games and activities and understanding the rules.
In secondary school, they use simple conversational skills and become better at managing their difficulties, but they may be slow to answer when spoken to, and may need information to be repeated. They have difficulty in learning new, more complex, vocabulary in lessons. They find it hard to use good sentences when speaking and writing, and to use complicated language such as idioms and metaphors. Their writing often lacks detail and is poorly structured and organised. They have difficulty with understanding what they read and often read texts slowly, or superficially, without taking in the meaning.
At University, these difficulties persist and become more apparent with the demands of writing in an academic style.
A diagnostic assessment by an educational psychologist can include standardized testing of receptive and expressive language skillst, verbal ability, non-verbal ability, phonological skills, movement skills, working memory skills and literacy skills (reading, writing, spelling). It is the first step towards planning effective, targeted teaching programmes for the child that address the complexity of the learner’s needs.
If you would like to discuss an assessment for a child with a history of SLI, please contact us.
Find Out More about SLI
- Tends to run in families
- Boys more affected than girls
- Often occurs with dyslexia
- Varies from mild to severe
- There is insufficient teacher training about SLI.
- SLI is formally diagnosed by Speech and Language Therapists (medical services) but very often there are educational needs (educational services). The two systems need to co-operate in planning to help the child
- There may not be a Speech and Language Therapy service to the school
- There are helpful organizations for SLI, such as
www.ican.org.uk. 0207 843 2552454986
www.afasic.org.uk 0207 490 9410
- The earlier a child is identified and helped with specialist teaching and / or therapy, the better the outcome
- Children usually have to experience failure in school before they are identified
- We know a lot about how to teach children with SLI effectively
- The learning needs of a person with SLI change as they grow and develop. In secondary school and at University, SLI can have a serious impact on comprehension and written English
- A professional educational psychologist assessment is the first, essential step to help in school