Language Impairments

Challenges and Opportunities for Meeting Children’s Needs and Insights from Psycho-Educational Theory and Research

Authored by: Julie E. Dockrell , Geoff Lindsay

Handbook of Educational Psychology and Students with Special Needs

Print publication date:  February  2020
Online publication date:  February  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138295421
eBook ISBN: 9781315100654
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explores the challenges in identifying and addressing the needs of children and young people with language impairments, an under-researched and under-identified group of learning difficulties. The nature of the children’s difficulties is explored, and ways in which children’s needs differ across development are considered. Incidence and prevalence are then addressed, and the ways in which specific groups of children are disproportionately at risk of experiencing a language learning difficulty are outlined. The initial overview highlights the importance of understanding what lies behind children’s impaired language skills so that developmental pathways that lead to poorer than expected progress can be identified. Language difficulties often co-occur with literacy and social, emotional, and behavior problems, which raise challenges for the children and practitioners but can also mask underlying problems with the language system itself. Bronfenbrenner’s ecosystemic theory provides a strong framework for understanding the factors that influence identification and interventions. While including within-child factors, the model also highlights the roles played by parents, schools, practitioners, the wider social and political context, and practice over time. The framework leads us to present a model of identification based on the child’s current needs and intervention framed within universal and specialist provision. To capture the interactions between the child and their current context, and between practitioners from different professional backgrounds, there is a need to be aware of “red flags” for language difficulties evident in the language system itself and, more widely, in the child’s socio-educational context. The chapter concludes by identifying three areas in need of further research: the identification of language learning difficulties in mainstream classrooms, the ways in which response to intervention could inform current practice, and effective models of school provision for children with language learning needs.

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