Ever have moments when every word that came out of your mouth sounded as if you had claimed citizenship on the planet Mongo?
Verbal bloopers like calling someone by the wrong name, or taking ten minutes to say what could be said in half the time, are fairly common occurrences, though embarrassing. Usually, most people write it off to tiredness, or stress. But imagine if you’re a child with weak language development: what would it be like to have a whole day filled with these kinds of verbal bloopers – and more?
The unfortunate truth is that your concept of how intelligent, personable, or successful a person is, is based largely on how articulate they are. While we are willing to make some exceptions for the strong silent type, there is still an underlying prejudice that a person whose speech is not their strong suit isn’t quite “smart” or “with it” enough.
Children especially suffer from this perception. All day long they are forced to perform, whether it’s for teachers, classmates, or parents. They often don’t know when they’ll be tested – as when a teacher calls on them suddenly in class, or they have a limited time to gather their thoughts and come up with a reasonably articulate answer.
Further complicating things is that a child may understand you perfectly (receptive language), and may even know the answer – but getting the answer out may be equivalent to getting out of the Mirkwood Forest unharmed.
Here is a list of 10 symptoms that point to the possibility of your child having a language output problem, also called an expressive language weakness:
1) Hesitation or labored speech. This is the most obvious of symptoms. Children speak using a lot of filler words (“Umm, well,”), and speaking is clearly hard work for them.
2) Take a long time to say very little. If you’ve ever heard someone take too long to get to the point of things, then you have an idea what this looks like. If your child has this problem, you may find yourself hurrying them along, or prompting them, in order to get to the main point.
3) No connecting words. When you speak, you use words like “and” or “then” or “next” in order to connect two different ideas. Children who have weak language output often leave these words out, making it hard to understand how their ideas fit together.
4) Using too many common words. Some children prefer to use very common words when they speak, even though you know they can understand words that are more complex. That’s because the words that are frequently used are easier to pull out of their mental word bank.
5) Difficulty clarifying or revising what they’ve said. This is a child who when asked to explain what they meant, seem to shut down. They understood what they said previously, but they find it hard to condense what was said, or say it in other words.
6) Have a hard time taking another person’s point of view. The child who has social difficulties often suffers from this. They may run up to a friend and start tickling them; it doesn’t occur to them that their friend might view this as an attack on their person. Or, they might say, “We’re going to Kim’s house today after school,” without taking into account that the listener may have no clue who Kim is.
7) Excessive grammatical errors. While some amount of grammatical mistakes might be expected due to a child’s age or environment, children with weak language development will make more mistakes than other children who are the same age and cultural background.
8) Overly simplistic speech. Children who display this symptom often sound as if they are writing a message for the telegraph company: they use far less words than would be expected, even if more are needed in order to understand what they’re saying.
9) “Dumbing down” their thoughts. If you’ve ever read an essay or report from a child that seemed far too simplistic for the child you know, then you’ve seen this action. This may be a child who has a wealth of complex thoughts and theories running through her head, but unfortunately is unable to bring out this treasure trove of ideas.
10) Their everyday speech is better than the more difficult language of schoolwork. It can be tempting to assume a child who is articulate with his peers and family doesn’t suffer from weak language development. However, the speech that we use everyday between friends and family is not the same as what we read in textbooks, newspapers, or other sources.
If you are unsure whether or not your child has any of these symptoms, choose a specific period of the day to observe them. For example, you could listen and observe your child for 2 or 3 days during carpool, or during dinner. Try to have at least 3 instances to choose from, just to ensure that the one day you choose to observe your child was the day they were out of sorts.
Stay tuned for the next post on how to handle weak language production at home-coming soon!