• Lindsey O'Neill MA, CCC-SLP

Preschool Language: Trust Your Gut

"My child's speech is fine. Why would he need therapy?"

Many children often make it to preschool before a teacher or adult expresses concerns about their language skills. Today I will share information about preschool language disorders.

Let's begin by discussing the difference between speech and language.

Speech and language, although often intertwined, are two separate entities. Speech is the oral, spoken communication of language. Language is a system, comprised of symbols and words that convey meaning and may be expressed via gestures, sign-language, reading, writing, body-language etc.

When assessing if a child may demonstrate signs of a language impairment, we need to look at both receptive and expressive language skills. A preschool-aged child with difficulties in the area of receptive language may appear confused when given directions at home or in the classroom. Additionally, understanding "Who", "What", and "Where" questions may be challenging.

If your child's preschool teacher indicates that your child appears disengaged, confused, or doesn't interact with peers, this is also of concern. There are many possibilities that need to be explored before determining how to best support your child. Can the child hear? Can the child see? Is the child able to understand the language that is being used when others are speaking to him or her?

I could be incredibly interested in learning about a topic, but if you try to inform me about said topic while speaking in French, I will be lost. I may appear uninterested, disengaged, distracted etc. after a while, because I cannot understand one word of what is being said. My point is, sometimes receptive language difficulties look like something else.

A child with expressive language difficulties may have trouble forming sentences, naming common nouns, asking questions, using correct pronouns (e.g. "He is a boy" v. "Him is a boy"), or retelling a familiar story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Also, children with expressive language difficulties may point to things or take adults to the items they want rather than naming what they need (e.g. "I need a drink").

If a child is 4 years old and is not consistently using 4+ word utterances ( e.g. "I have a dog. Pink is my favorite color."), there may be reason to suspect an expressive language disorder. By the time a child is between 3-4 years of age, pronouns like "I, me, you, they" and some plurals such as "toys, hats, dogs" should be also present.

If you suspect that your child may be behind in their ability to understand or use language, contact a speech-language pathologist in your area. In addition to providing you with (hopefully) helpful information about preschool language disorders, I hope the key takeaway from this post, now that you are more informed, will be TRUST YOUR GUT.

The preschool years are a formative language learning time in a child's life and there are many professionals willing to lend a helping hand. Please, don't "wait and see". Contacting a professional for a second opinion does not make you any less of a parent.

You are not a failure. Your child is not "broken". In fact, you are doing an amazing job! Do not be discouraged. Be informed and be proactive if you have concerns.

If you'd like to learn more about the signs and causes of preschool language disorders, please check out this ASHA page.

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