When a speech path first starts out, it is tough to figure out the difference between diagnostic terms in evaluation reports. Sometimes the terms sound so similar. Additionally, when parents hears a diagnosis during an eligibility meeting, it can be pretty confusing. Here are some issues that come up:
- The speech pathologist said my daughter has a language delay. What does that mean? A language delay is the traditional label for a student who demonstrates difficulty with language comprehension or oral expression when compared to same age peers. The critical point of a delay is that a student with a delay displays typical language acquisition at a slower pace. Their strengths and weaknesses in communication look like a younger child’s profile. An example of an expressive language delay is a student who is age four who is using two words per utterance. The milestone for a two-year old is to use two words per utterance so a four year old with that ability would be delayed.
- The report from the private speech clinic mentioned disordered language. Is that the same as a delay? A language disorder refers to a student whose language skills do not follow a typical pattern of a delay. A child with a language disorder will show an idiosyncratic profile of strengths and weaknesses that does not follow a pattern you might see in a younger child. Usually the student’s language disorder will not follow a pattern seen in other children. For example, a student who calls people by the names of inanimate objects. Another example is a student who uses the same sentence structure or sentence starter to begin every utterance. Those concerns would be outside of sequence of typical language acquisition and development and would be considered disordered.
- My daughter didn’t qualify for speech therapy. The speech pathologist said it was a language difference. Okay, so what does language difference mean? First of all, the term language difference applies to a bilingual person. Th features of one language influence the pronunciation of the other. Why is this important? It may appear that an individual has a speech problem. I would receive a referral related to the concerns about speech sound errors. Oftentimes, their errors are typical of a person who is coming from a particular language point of view. For example, a person originally from India who is learning to speak English will struggle with /v/ and /w/ sounds. Those sounds are not present in the same way in English. I cannot say that the person has a speech problem because it’s a language difference. Therapy in a school setting would not be recommended for this person because they do not have a delay or disorder; they are just learning English. However, an adult with those same speech errors could be eligible for private accent modification services.
I hope that I’ve been able to explain the differences between these pretty distinct terms. Please comment below if you have further questions. Or you can email me. Thanks for reading!
Grab the handout detailing the differences between English and Spanish speech sounds here: Speech Sound Differences Between English and Spanish