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How Language Disorders Impact Academics

A language disorder is when a child has difficulty with understanding or use of spoken or written language. When a child’s language disorder impacts their ability to understand spoken or written language, this may explain not following directions, answering questions regarding reading content, or understanding longer, more complex sentences. Ways in which language use can impact academics is a child’s ability to use grade-appropriate vocabulary, grammar, sentence formation, and social communication. Most language disorders impact both the understanding and use of language, as well as reading and writing.

Despite the many ways a language disorder can show up and the obstacles it can impose, they often go undetected in schools. Speech impairments, for example, are more easily noticed and therefore those children more often referred by teachers. Many children learn to compensate for the difficulties that come along with a language disorder. For example, students may not participate as actively in a class activity if they didn’t understand the directions given by the teacher, or they may use a limited vocabulary if they don’t know the meaning of more advanced words, and don’t know how to find the definition themselves.

  1. Academic Vocabulary

    1. Academic vocabulary describes the language or terminology used in an educational setting, and includes both class-specific and general academic words.

    2. Maintaining a grade-appropriate academic vocabulary inventory is vital for academic success. As children enter middle and high school, more and more topic-specific academic vocabulary is introduced. If these terms are not understood, it becomes easy to fall behind in those classes.

    3. For example, a student must understand the terms “hypothesize”, “predict”, “evidence”, and “measure”, if they are going to be able to complete a science assignment correctly and in a timely manner.

  2. Navigating Textbooks

    1. Children with language disorders may have difficulty finding needed information in textbooks or dictionaries. This can be another obstacle to finding needed information in order to finish task such as homework s in an accurate and timely way.

    2. It can be helpful to explicitly teach the purpose of main heading and subheadings of textbooks, as well as the glossary and index. You can practice quizzing them by asking them to navigate to a specific chapter or find a certain word in the dictionary.

  3. Understanding and following directions

    1. Understanding both written and spoken directions is a necessary skill when it comes to schoolwork. If children with language disorders struggle to follow spoken directions in the classroom, it may appear that they are misbehaving. If they struggle to follow the directions written on their assignments, it can impede their ability to complete homework, projects or tests to the best of their ability.

    2. When at home, it can help to break up directions if they include multiple steps. If you know your child struggles more with listening than reading, you can write down spoken directions for them. You can do the opposite if they struggle more with written directions. Be sure to check for understanding often and have them explain the directions back to you!

  4. Figurative language

    1. Children with language disorders often view language in a more concrete, literal way. For this reason, figurative language can be misunderstood or taken literally.

    2. If they are at the age that figurative language is being used and studied in classes, it can be helpful to explain the use of language in a less literal way.

      1. For example, if you said, “You are a shining star!”, you may have to explain that you are calling them a shining star because they did so well and are standing out from others!

      2. For example, if you said, “Today was a marathon,” you can explain that today felt long, and since marathons are long as well, you compared the two.

  5. Homework

    1. In general, students with language disorders take longer to complete their homework assignments, and may appear frustrated or lost regarding homework.

    2. Increased homework time can be due to difficulty understanding directions or specific terminology, increased time it takes to read passages or novels, difficulty producing more complex sentences or correct grammar, and difficulty navigating the needed content (i.e., textbooks, articles, etc).

    3. Helpful tips during homework time include:

      1. Checking for understanding throughout, to ensure they are on the right track.

      2. Encouraging questions! For example, if their homework has a word that they aren’t familiar with, double check that they know what it is, and if they ask independently, praise them for it.

      3. Slow down the pace to increase processing time.

      4. Rephrase or chunk up directions if needed. Use language you know they understand, and take multi-step directions one step at a time.


1. Language impairment affects school performance. (2018, March 12). University of Delaware UDaily.

2. Swallow, D. (2014, April 26). Strategies to Help Children with Language Disorders Tackle. . . North Shore Pediatric Therapy.

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