Supporting Kids With Language Processing Disorder: What Teachers Need to Know

Supporting Kids With Language Processing Disorder: What Teachers Need to Know

Have you ever been midsentence and forgot the word you wanted to say? So you find yourself explaining, “the dish where meat and vegetables come to the table sizzling in a skillet with tortillas on the side” instead of simply saying, “fajitas.” Or have you ever realized you’d been talking to someone for several minutes, but totally zoned out and don’t know what they said? These are annoying slipups that happen to most of us from time to time. However, students with language processing disorders deal with this frustration daily.

What is language processing disorder?

Language processing disorder (LPD) is an impairment originating in the brain that makes it difficult to communicate through spoken language. The challenges could be in receiving, recognizing, understanding, or expressing language. Types of LPD include:

  • Receptive language disorder: This makes it difficult to understand what others are saying or to follow a conversation.
  • Expressive language disorder: People with this have a difficult time expressing their thoughts. 
  • Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder: People with this have a difficult time both using and understanding spoken language. 

According to ADDitude Magazine, up to 5% of children in the US have a language processing disorder.  Over a million students are receiving special education services due to LPD. Undiagnosed language processing disorders can cause issues that carry over into adulthood, including social challenges, low self-esteem, and difficulty with self-expression. Children who aren’t receiving intervention may lash out in frustration. They then risk being labeled a bully or behavior problem.

Language disorders are often developmental like other disabilities. However, they can also occur as a result of trauma to the brain, such as a stroke or car accident. Regardless of the origins, symptoms range from mild to severe. The milder the symptoms, the least likely to be diagnosed and provided with support. Those with mild symptoms are often written off as shy or unfocused. 

Also Read: What Is Selective Mutism and How to Address it in the Classroom

Symptoms of language processing disorder:

1. Receptive:

  • Seems shy withdrawn or quiet
  • Doesn’t follow instructions
  • Doesn’t engage in conversation or socialize with other students
  • Misunderstands questions and answers inappropriately
  • Doesn’t seem to get jokes or sarcasm

2. Expressive:

  • Has a small vocabulary for age
  • Trouble learning new vocabulary words
  • Struggles with verb tenses
  • Says sentences that don’t make sense 
  • Uses filler words like “um” or “like”
  • Frequently forgets words
  • Gets frustrated easily when trying to communicate
  • Says “stuff” or “things” instead of being specific 

3. Mixed expressive-receptive: 

  • Symptoms from both lists might be present. 

Many students with language processing disorders have higher than average intelligence. However, it may be difficult to demonstrate that intelligence to the outside world. This is often very frustrating for people with LPD.

How can teachers support students with language processing disorders?

Diagnosis is key. Early diagnosis gives students the best chance for success. However, it’s never too late. If you notice a student exhibits symptoms, follow the evaluation referral protocol. While many students are diagnosed in early childhood, there are high school students who have slipped through the cracks and will still benefit from intervention. Other ways to help include:

1. Seat students with LPD at the front of the class. 

This will make it easier for them to focus on you. It will also allow you to better determine if the student is following along or struggling.

2. Modify tests. 

Test adaptations for students with LPDs might include: multiple-choice tests, fewer questions, more time to complete and a quiet test-taking location.

3. Send reading assignments, lectures, projects, and homework in advance. 

Providing the student with info about everything you’ll be doing that week allows them extra time to prepare. This also allows them a chance to get help from their therapists, parents and other support team members.

4. Allow recordings. 

Allow students to use their phones or tablet to record your lecture so they can listen again at home. Also, allow them to record themselves at home instead of putting them on the spot to give oral presentations in class. 

5. Speak slowly and clearly with eye contact. 

This is especially important when introducing new concepts, giving directions or providing crucial information. 

6. Repeat key concepts and examples. Don’t worry about other students getting annoyed with the repetition. 

Many of them weren’t paying attention or have forgotten what you said and will benefit from the repeat.

7. Show support and encouragement. 

Let the student know you see how hard they’re working. Point out their progress. Celebrate their accomplishments – even when it’s, “This is hard for you, but you showed up again today to keep trying! That’s awesome!”

8. Take breaks. 

If a lesson requires listening for more big chunks of time, break it up. Encourage everyone to get up and stretch or take a walk around the classroom. Check-in with the student with an LPD to see if they need any clarification. 

9. Have the student use an agenda. 

Check the agenda each day to make sure assignments and important information is correctly written. 

10. Give students visual projects instead of written assignments. 

When possible, give students a choice of how to present projects. Instead of a written book report, perhaps they might like to create a clay model of a favorite character or paint an important scene. 

11. Incorporate nonverbal communication. 

Have labels in the classroom that tell students where to put their work. Hold up signs to signify transitions, for example, a green piece of poster board on a stick when it’s time to line up. Hold a ruler or wand in the air, or ring a bell to signify you’re about to say something important.

12. Keep a consistent schedule and routine. 

Having the same schedule and routine to follow lessons the chances of misunderstanding directions. 

13. Reduce unnecessary distractions. 

Create a seating arrangement that has pencil sharpeners, fish tanks and excessively chatty classmates far from the student with a LPD. 

 14. Work as a team. 

Get input from speech therapists, parents and other members of the team to discuss what’s working well and brainstorm new tactics to try.

15. Understand LPD can be at the root of behavior issues. 

Children who have trouble communicating sometimes act out in frustration. Help them find ways to express themselves and provide an outlet for when they’re feeling overwhelmed, such as an index card they can pass you when they need a break.

A parent’s perspective 

Julie Perry is an early childhood educator and mom to a child diagnosed with mixed expressive-receptive language disorder. She offers these tips for teachers:

  • Embrace the team approach. Language disorders are on a spectrum and often complicated to find the best way to support each child. Perry says teachers, parents, ESE specialists, speech-language pathologists and healthcare professionals all working as a team is crucial. 
  • Don’t stress about eye contact. Perry said her daughter often “needs to disconnect eye contact in order for her brain to formulate a sentence in its entirety.” Maintaining eye contact and focusing on language is simply too much to balance sometimes. 
  • Understand support is sometimes needed long term. Perry says her daughter is now a young adult working an entry-level job. She still struggles and needs extra support at times. It’s particularly helpful for high school teachers and the rest of the team to have discussions about what support might be needed after graduation in order for the student to have the best chance at success. 
  • Try a repetitive phrase. Perry’s daughter has been coached to say “purple hippopotamus” when she’s struggling. Focusing on these two words she’s practiced so many times helps her brain pause and reset. Then she’s able to focus better on what’s being said around her or say a complete sentence with ease. Perry refers to it as “the magical two words.”

Remember how frustrated you feel when you forget a word or a fact. Imagine dealing with it all day every day, with dozens of your peers watching. Students with language processing disorders can be very successful in school, they just need patience, encouragement, support and freedom to explore different modes of communication.

Also Read:

Supporting Kids With Language Processing Disorder: What Teachers Need to Know

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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