Let’s Talk About: Language Processing

Language Processing Disorder

Language processing is a term that cropped up early in my career as a speech therapist. It wasn’t one of the big disorders focused on in graduate school. I was hearing it often tossed around as an alternative to an autism diagnosis. As a young therapist, it was all confusing. I can only imagine how parents feel. Through my own research I’ve learned what it is, what to look for, and some strategies that help with this particular disorder.

A child with a language processing disorder has difficulty attaching meaning to what he is hearing even though his hearing is within normal limits. I have a post about receptive language disorders here and about expressive language disorders here.

Language Processing Disorder is similar but different from Central Auditory Processing Disorder. I will look into CAPD in a different post.

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Characteristics of Language Processing

The following characteristics are listed in The Source for Processing Disorders (Linguisystems 2001). These are often seen in preschool and school-age children that demonstrates language processing difficulties.

1. Uses generic words (i.e., this, that, stuff, things, those, etc) due to word retrieval difficulties.

You will often hear a child with difficulty with language processing overly use generic words like “that” or “things.” They have difficulty finding the right word to use, so they will use something generic. You might hear made up words like ” that thingy” or a round about description for the word they want to use. It’s not that they don’t know the word. It’s like they forgot where they stored it in the many file cabinets of information in their brain.

2. Often says “I don’t know” or “um”

Children with language processing difficulties may answer questions with “I don’t know” or “I forgot.” They know they are expected to answer even if they don’t understand what the question is asking. Children are always very aware that if they don’t answer quickly, then they may lose their turn in the conversation. They might use a lot of filler words like “um” to give them more time to think and process.

3. Repeats back what he hears

This is a coping strategy they use to give themselves more time to process and to give an answer to your question. They will repeat back your question or direction. Kids can be pretty good at problem solving!

4. Trouble formulating complete sentences and cannot fix errors

You may see errors in their sentences which may make them sound younger than their age. A sentence may be started but not completed. He may know there’s an error, but he may not know how to fix it or self-correct their sentence. The child may confuse words that are similarly spelled. I see this often with prepositions like on/in. Something “in” the bed is very different that something “on” the bed.

5. Difficulty with social skills

Children with language processing difficulties may not understand what their peers are saying or the rules of the game everyone is playing at the playground. Social language and rules are complex, and it can be frustrating for a child with language processing difficulties.

6. Need to learn and relearn information

You may find that your child with language processing difficulties will need to review information already learned. They may regress over long breaks and have to start over again. I often see this a lot in preschool with colors and shapes. Colors and shapes dominate the preschool years… every circle time or play group goes over them… yet kids may still struggle with the concepts.

7. Difficulty sequencing stories

I often see kids with language processing difficulties have trouble telling me stories in order. They might tell me about the end of the latest Paw Patrol show, but then talk about the characters before skipping to something that happened in the middle.

8. Trouble with “wh” questions

“WH” questions are questions that start with “what, where, who, when and why.” Kids with language processing difficulties have trouble with these questions. They might use the wrong “wh” word in their question, or they might have trouble understanding what information to give in an answer.

9. Short-term memory issues

Be on the look out for short-term memory issues. The child isn’t able to keep the information in their mind long enough to process it. They may start to follow a direction but not complete all of it. This is where the above strategy for repeating helps out. They might learn about colors, but forget them all when asked about colors later.

10. IQ and vocabulary are within normal limits

You will find that children with language processing difficulties have an age-appropriate IQ and vocabulary. They are smart kids, but have trouble understanding the language that is coming in.

Consider reading reading The Source for Language Processing Disorders (Linguisystems 2001) for more information on this topic. It’s an excellent resource that I’ve turned to many times in my career. Check it out here.

Strategies for Language Processing

When working with a child with language processing, it’s important to focus on language skills. I talked about receptive language in this post here, and it has a lot of good strategies that would apply for kids with a language processing disorder.

  1. Introduce concepts in different ways using as many senses as possibly- see, hear, touch, smell, taste.
  2. Use visuals such as pictures often since they last longer than things we hear. Consider a picture schedule for the day or list of chores
  3. Give more “wait time” to allow for processing and limit over-scheduling if possible
  4. Shorten your verbal directions to one word or short phrases (i.e. Clean-up, Give me it, Bed Now!)
  5. Read often and ask questions about the stories you read together.

A language processing disorder can be frustrating for your child and you. Please consult with a speech/language pathologist if you have any concerns. Your therapist will be able to guide you and your child through the language processing hierarchy. I discussed the role of the speech therapist here and here.

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