See the Spoken Language Disorders Evidence Map for summaries of the available research on this topic.
The scope of this Practice Portal page is limited to spoken language disorders (listening and speaking) in preschool and school-age children (3–21 years old) who use verbal modes of communication.
A spoken language disorder (SLD), also known as an oral language disorder, represents a significant impairment in the acquisition and use of language across modalities (e.g., speech, sign language, or both) due to deficits in comprehension and/or production across any of the five language domains (i.e., phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics). Language disorders may persist across the lifespan, and symptoms may change over time.
When SLD is a primary disability—not accompanied by an intellectual disability, global developmental delay, hearing or other sensory impairment, motor dysfunction, or other mental disorder or medical condition—it is considered a specific language impairment (SLI).
An SLD may also occur in the presence of other conditions, such as
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD),
- intellectual disabilities (ID),
- developmental disabilities (DD),
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
- traumatic brain injury (TBI),
- psychological/emotional disorders,
- hearing loss.
Each of these affected populations may exhibit unique characteristics and behaviors, but all share common characteristics of language problems (Rice & Warren, 2004).
The relationship between spoken and written language is well established (e.g., Hulme & Snowling, 2013). Children with spoken language problems frequently have difficulty learning to read and write. Additionally, children with reading and writing problems often have difficulty with spoken language, particularly as it relates to higher-order spoken language skills, such as expository discourse (Scott & Windsor, 2000). See language in brief and the Practice Portal page on Written Language Disorders.
Some children with language disorders may have social communication difficulty, because language processing, along with social interaction, social cognition, and pragmatics, comprise social communication. See social communication disorders.
Learning disabilities (LD) and language disorders are also closely linked, although the exact relationship between the two is not fully agreed upon. Language disorders are typically diagnosed before learning disabilities and frequently impact a child's academic performance. At that point, the child is often identified as having a learning disability, even though a language disorder often underpins the academic struggles, especially those associated with learning to read and write.