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What is a Language Processing Disorder?

A language processing disorder (LPD) is an impairment that negatively affects communication through spoken language. LPD is not the same as a Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), however. A CAPD refers to how the central nervous system takes in auditory information, it is an auditory deficit. A child with a CAPD is able to hear sounds but their brain interprets these sounds atypically. A CAPD diagnosis must be made by an audiologist who conducts testing in a sound proof booth. For an example, a child with a CAPD may not hear the difference in two similar words, such as, "bat" and "rat". A child with CAPD may also have difficulty processing sounds in the presence of background noise.

On the contrary, a LPD is a learning disability that manifests itself in written and oral deficits regarding language comprehension and, like CAPD, it is not due to a hearing loss. Language processing refers to the ability to attach meaning to auditory information (that is processed in the central nervous system) and formulate a response. For example, the central auditory nervous system will hear the individual sounds in a word (e.g. "c-a-t" and then our brain will blend the sounds to make a word, "cat") once meaning is attached to the word (an animal with fur, a tail and whiskers etc.) language processing is taking place. There are two types of LPD-expressive language disorder and receptive language disorder. An expressive language disorder is when a person has difficulty expressing thoughts clearly using words and a receptive language disorder is when a person has difficulty understanding spoken language. Poor communication skills may be the result of a LPD and often have a negative impact on children both academically and socially. Catching a LPD early on in a child's life is crucial so that children may receive the treatment and support they need to succeed in school and in life. It is critical to distinguish between a LPD and a CAPD in order to best address the disorder.

What are the symptoms of a language processing disorder?

  • struggles with interpreting spoken language

  • Word finding difficulties

  • Using generic language such as, "stuff" and "thingy"

  • Seemingly poor memory "I forgot."

  • Joining and understanding conversations

  • Applying grammar/syntax

  • Understanding figurative language

  • Difficulties following directions and stories

  • Struggles with reading comprehension

  • Difficulty spelling and writing

  • Difficulty with vocabulary and concepts

  • Asking for repetitions

  • Saying, "What?" often

  • Taking a long time to respond to questions

  • Being quick to say, "I don't know."

  • Naming a general category instead of a specific word (e.g. saying "vegetable" instead of "carrot")

  • Using descriptors instead of the intended word (e.g. "the yellow thing that monkeys eat" instead of "banana")

  • Feeling lost when listening to stories with many characters and events

How do I know the difference between LPD's and other disorders?

Attention Deficit Disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADHD/ADD), CAPD and LPD can look similar at times and may even co-exist. A team approach, which includes speech language pathologists, teachers, parents, audiologists, psychologists and physicians help to differentiate between the diagnoses. Treatment for these disorders vary significantly, therefore, an understanding of the underlying deficit will result in the most effective treatment approach for a child's specific needs.

How can parents and teachers help their child with language processing?

  • Present new information in a context-rich environment using a multi-modal approach to tap into all of the senses

  • Allow more "thinking time" to prevent unnecessary pressure

  • Encourage your child to request repetition or help, rather than saying, "I don't know" during moments of difficulty

  • Make sure your child is listening before you begin speaking

  • Use a tape recorder to record class lectures

  • Explain idioms and figurative language

  • Use visual supports to supplement spoken information

If you suspect your child has a LPD a certified speech-language pathologist can help.

Schedule your FREE online screening at Universal Speech Therapy!

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