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Language Disorders Are Learning Disabilities: Challenges on the Divergent and Diverse Paths to Language Learning Disability

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Abstract

This article takes readers along the pathway of language learning and disorders across childhood and adolescence, highlighting the complex relationship between early (preschool) language disorders and later (school age) learning disabilities. The discussion starts with a review of diagnostic labels widely used in schools and other professional settings. The sometimes confusing interpretations of labels such as specific language impairment and specific learning disabilities are discussed. We outline key relations that exist among language proficiency, language disorders, and school success and emphasize the centrality of language in literacy and academic success within a conceptual framework that addresses both inherent factors (e.g., abilities the language a child “comes with” to school including one's foundational literacy levels) and external factors (e.g., classroom dynamics, textbook language). We argue that mismatches between these factors come together in a manner that is best captured by the term, language learning disability. We end with a summary of key points that encourage professionals to reevaluate and challenge the traditional view that children and adolescents with language disorders are a separate and distinct population from those with learning disabilities.
Top Lang Disorders
Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 25–38
Copyright c
!2014 Wolters Kluwer Health |Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Language Disorders
Are
Learning Disabilities
Challenges on the Divergent and
Diverse Paths to Language Learning
Disability
Lei Sun and Geraldine P. Wallach
This article takes readers along the pathway of language learning and disorders across childhood
and adolescence, highlighting the complex relationship between early (preschool) language dis-
orders and later (school age) learning disabilities. The discussion starts with a review of diagnostic
labels widely used in schools and other professional settings. The sometimes confusing interpreta-
tions of labels such as specific language impairment and specific learning disabilities are discussed.
We outline key relations that exist among language proficiency, language disorders, and school
success and emphasize the centrality of language in literacy and academic success within a con-
ceptual framework that addresses both inherent factors (e.g., abilities the language a child “comes
with” to school including one’s foundational literacy levels) and external factors (e.g., classroom
dynamics, textbook language). We argue that mismatches between these factors come together in
a manner that is best captured by the term, language learning disability.Weendwithasummary
of key points that encourage professionals to reevaluate and challenge the traditional view that
children and adolescents with language disorders are a separate and distinct population from those
with learning disabilities. Key words: continuum of changing demands,diagnostic labels,in-
tervention directions,learning disabilities,language disorders,language disorders’ outcomes,
language learning disabilities,specific language impairment,specific learning disabilities
IN THIS ARTICLE, we ask readers to con-
sider the complex nature of early language
disorders, their overlap and continuity with
learning disabilities, and the changing diag-
nostic labels that may accompany children
with language and learning disabilities across
time. The following scenario sets the tone.
Author Affiliations: Department of
Communicative Disorders, California State
University, Long Beach.
The authors thank Dr. Joel Stark, the “Father” of LLD,
for his inspiration and support and for suggesting the
title for this article.
The authors have indicated that they have no financial
and no nonfinancial relationships to disclose.
Corresponding Author: Geraldine P. Wallach, PhD,
CCC-SLP, Department of Communicative Disorders,
California State University, Long Beach, CSULB 1250
Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90840 (geraldine
.wallach@csulb.edu).
DOI: 10.1097/TLD.0000000000000005
A language learning disability (LLD) scenario: A
parent of a child who has been receiving services
at a speech–language–hearing center for a number
of years has been pleased with her child’s language
development. Tim (a pseudonym) began his inter-
vention journey in this particular clinic at about
2.5 years old as a child with delayed language. Tim
had difficulties with both language comprehension
and expression in all areas of content, form, and
use, as well as attention issues, but he also demon-
strated many age-appropriate abilities, including
motor development and cognitive-communicative
skills (e.g., playing appropriately and using non-
verbal communication to make his needs known).
Thus, Tim received a diagnosis in the clinic as hav-
ing specific language impairment (SLI). When Tim
entered school, he was tested by his school-based
speech–language pathologist (SLP) and met eligi-
bility requirements for services as a child with a
speech or language impairment (S-LI). By second
grade, Tim was speaking in complete sentences
and understanding most everyday language, but
Copyright © 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
25
26 TOPICS IN LANGUAGE DISORDERS/JANUARY–MARCH 2014
he was struggling to meet academic standards,
including basic skills for reading and writing,
comprehending instructional language, and using
expressive discourse to express his ideas orally and
in writing. At one point, Tim’s mother said that
because of his academic difficulties and problems
with reading and writing, she and Tim’s teacher
were concerned that he might have a specific learn-
ing disability (SLD). She asked: “Is it true that
Tim has another problem on top of his language
problem?”
The question asked by Tim’s mother in
this scenario speaks to the confusion about
the relationships between preschool language
disorders (often called SLI by clinical pro-
fessionals and researchers) and eligibility la-
bels associated with school service delivery
(i.e., S-LI and SLD). Not only are parents un-
clear about these relationships but profession-
als are too. This may be one reason SLPs
do not do a better job of preparing parents
and students to navigate the sometimes un-
clear path taken among different diagnoses
and service delivery models for children who
demonstrate language difficulties from their
preschool through their school-age years.
The aforementioned scenario harkens to
the classic question asked by Bashir, Kuban,
Kleinman, and Scavuzzo (1984): “Are we
speaking about a group of children, who by
virtue of learning context, are called by dif-
ferent names, but who in reality evidence a
continuum of deficits in language learning?”
(p. 99). This, indeed, was our answer to Tim’s
mother’s question. It was not a new disor-
der, we told her, but a different manifestation
of Tim’s ongoing language disorder. The new
problems arose as he faced new challenges be-
cause the language demands of the academic
curriculum grow across grade levels, and this
might happen again as Tim continued through
school. Tim’s two SLPs, one in the clinic and
the other in his school, needed to collaborate
with each other and with his parents, teach-
ers, and other specialists to co-construct a uni-
fied picture of Tim’s strengths and needs that
could inform treatment plans and help Tim
gain new skills to meet curriculum standards
within new contexts.
As the title of this article and Tim’s case
example suggest, children and adolescents
facing language challenges may be identi-
fied with different diagnostic and service de-
livery labels at different points across their
preschool years through high school and into
adulthood. It is our purpose in this article
to untangle misconceptions about the paral-
lel and divergent pathways that children with
language disorders may take through their de-
velopmental years, sometimes shifting diag-
noses as they encounter new language and
literacy learning challenges.
We organize our arguments by presenting
three theses about the relationships between
language impairment and learning disabilities.
First, the use of different labels by different
professionals in different contexts should not
obscure the commonalities among children
with language disorders, no matter what they
are called. Second, children with a diagnosis
of SLI in the preschool years tend to have
continued problems with language learning
throughout their school years and beyond, al-
though their language disorders, as well as
those of children newly identified as having
SLD, take on different forms as a consequence
of new contexts and learning tasks. Third, lan-
guage is the embedded curriculum of school,
not only in the form of what is called “lan-
guage arts” but also within all other parts of
the curriculum. The implication of this is that
intervention choices should be based on stu-
dents’ ongoing language learning and literacy
problems within curricular contexts, regard-
less of their diagnostic labels. We end the ar-
ticle with summary points for consideration
and a look toward future research.
DEFINITIONS AND DECISIONS: AN
INTRODUCTORY ROADMAP
Our first thesis is that when profession-
als apply different labels in different con-
texts, commonalities among language disor-
ders are obscured. Identifying similarities re-
quires merely looking at definitions across
sources.
Copyright © 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
Language Disorders Are Learning Disabilities 27
Under IDEA (2004), language disorders
fall under the broad category of speech or
language impairment (abbreviated S-LI in
this article), which is defined as a “com-
munication disorder, such as stuttering, im-
paired articulation, a language impairment, or
a voice impairment, that adversely affects a
child’s educational performance” (34 C.F.R.
§300.8(c)(11)). To provide services on the
basis of language impairment, school-based
SLPs must find a child eligible for services as
S-LI. The federal regulations, however, offer
no eligibility criteria for diagnosing language
impairment and no further definition of lan-
guage impairment; rather, criteria are estab-
lished through state and local guidelines, in-
troducing additional sources of variation. An-
other complexity is that it is impossible to dif-
ferentiate children receiving services under
IDEA who qualify on the basis of speech im-
pairment from those who qualify on the basis
of language impairment. Thus, official propor-
tions are difficult to identify.
We note that the federal definition of S-LI
does not indicate whether language disorders
are specific to oral or written language. Lan-
guage is language, whether it is spoken or
written. This is consistent with the definition
of language disorder by the American Speech-
Language-Hearing Association (ASHA, 1993),
which states:
A language disorder is impaired comprehension
and/or use of spoken, written and/or other sym-
bol systems. The disorder may involve (1) the form
of language (phonology, morphology, syntax), (2)
the content of language (semantics), and/or (3) the
function of language in communication (pragmat-
ics) in any combination.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Asso-
ciation, 2013) uses similar terminology, defin-
ing language disorder as:
Persistent difficulties in the acquisition and use of
language across modalities (i.e., spoken, written,
sign language, or other) due to deficits in compre-
hension or production that include the following:
(1) reduced vocabulary . . . (2) limited sentence
structure . . . (3) impairments in discourse. (315.39
(F80.9))
Definitions of SLI, in contrast, come from
the research literature. Leonard (1991) ob-
served that such definitions depend on sig-
nificant and specific deficits in language, but
their identification is based primarily on ex-
clusion. He wrote, “Although these children
exhibit significant deficits in language ability,
they show no evidence of frank neurological
damage, their hearing is within normal limits,
and they perform at age level on nonverbal
tests of intelligence” (p. 66). Specific language
impairment is generally identified first when
children struggle to acquire oral language abil-
ities in their preschool years.
Specific learning disability may be identi-
fied for the first time when children struggle
to acquire written language in their school-
age years, but it could be identified earlier. As
defined in IDEA (2004), SLD
means a disorder in one or more of the basic psy-
chological processes involved in understanding or
in using language, spoken or written, that may
manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen,
think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathe-
matical calculations, including conditions such as
perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain
dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
(34 C.F.R. §300.8(c)(10.i))
We note that this definition is not specific
to written language difficulties, nor is it con-
fined to any particular point in time. Section
300.308(a)(3) indicates, “For a child of less
than school age,” the evaluation team for iden-
tifying SLI must include “an individual quali-
fied by the SEA [state education agency] to
teach a child of his or her age; and (b) at least
one person qualified to conduct individual di-
agnostic examinations of children, such as a
school psychologist, speech–language pathol-
ogist, or remedial reading teacher.”
The “specific” aspect of SLD is also defined
by exclusion in the federal regulations, which
indicate that “specific learning disability does
not include learning problems that are pri-
marily the result of visual, hearing, or mo-
tor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emo-
tional disturbance, or of environmental, cul-
tural, or economic disadvantage” (34 C.F.R.
§300.8(c)(10.ii)). Under former versions of
Copyright © 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
28 TOPICS IN LANGUAGE DISORDERS/JANUARY–MARCH 2014
IDEA, discrepancy formulas between IQ and
achievement were used as part of the exclu-
sion criterion to identify children with learn-
ing disability, but the reauthorization of IDEA
(2004) indicated that a state, in adopting cri-
teria for determining whether a child has SLD,
(1) must not require the use of a severe discrep-
ancy between intellectual ability and achievement
for determining whether a child has a specific
learning disability, as defined in §300.8(c)(10); (2)
must permit the use of a process based on the
child’s response to scientific, research-based inter-
vention; and (3) may permit the use of other alter-
native research-based procedures for determining
whether a child has a specific learning disability, as
defined in §300.8(c)(10).
This policy was changed because of the
lack of evidence that a discrepancy formula
is appropriate for identifying learning disabil-
ities (e.g., Christensen, 1992; Fletcher, Lyon,
Fuchs, & Barnes, 2007). Similarly, a discrep-
ancy formula should not be used to iden-
tify SLI. Addressing the question, “Who shall
be called language disordered?” Lahey (1990)
emphasized the artificiality of mental and lan-
guage age numbers and the importance of
keeping the bigger picture in mind, including
the functionality of the tests used to identify
language disorders. She also expressed con-
cerns about assessing language outside of the
contexts in which children must live, a no-
tion just as relevant today. In an early pre-
sentation, Lahey (1980) described “learning
disabilities” as one of those intricate puzzles
with hundreds of pieces that was missing the
box’s cover that provided an intact picture
of the puzzle. She went on to reflect on the
sometimes circularity of reasoning involved in
using labels such as “learning disabled,” espe-
cially when they play out like this:
Question: Why are these children with normal in-
telligence having difficulty learning to read?
Answer: Because they are “learning disabled.”
Question: How do you know that?
Answer: Because they have normal intelligence and
they are having difficulty learning to read? (Lahey,
1980, as cited in Wallach & Butler, 1994, p. 19).
In its frequently quoted definition, the
National Joint Committee on Learning Dis-
abilities (NJCLD, 1990) emphasized the het-
erogeneity of learning disability, as well as
the involvement of language across both spo-
ken and written modalities. The essence of
the definition is that “learning disabilities is a
general term that refers to a heterogeneous
group of disorders manifested by significant
difficulties in the acquisition and use of lis-
tening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning,
or mathematical skills” (ASHA, 1998; NJCLD,
1990).
Adding to the confusion are terms intro-
duced both in the research literature and in
nonschool clinical settings to describe vari-
ations on language and learning disabilities.
The term dyslexia, for example, appears in
the federal definition of SLD, with variations
of this term including specific reading dis-
order or reading disorder. Important ques-
tions about the relationships between SLI
and dyslexia have been addressed in the re-
search literature (e.g., Bishop & Snowling,
2004; Catts, Adlof, Hogan, & Elllis Weismer,
2005), which suggests that there are some
distinctions between the groups. Individual
children and adolescents are complex beings,
however, and clinicians must consider the
broad range of language issues that may con-
tribute to the language literacy problems any
one child or adolescent may face in school.
How can these complex issues be resolved?
Even a cursory consideration of these various
definitions shows their similarity and, in many
aspects, their complete overlap. By definition,
a disorder of spoken or written language is a
learning disability. The converse also is true—
that is, a learning disability is a language dis-
order. The one exception is the child who
might be identified as having learning disabil-
ity based only on impairment of the ability to
“do mathematical calculations,” but even in
this case, language may be implicated (Patkin,
2011). Acknowledging this overlap, the term
language learning disability (LLD) was used
by the ASHA Committee on Language Learn-
ing Disabilities (1982) in an article describing
the role of the SLP in learning disabilities. The
Copyright © 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
Language Disorders Are Learning Disabilities 29
inaugural issue of Topics in Language Dis-
orders (see Butler & Wallach, 1980; Stark &
Wallach, 1980) and subsequent issues (e.g.,
Wallach, 2005) have addressed the complex-
ity of issues surrounding terminology, in-
cluding use of the term language learning
disability. Although LLD is not part of any
official diagnosis, it applies to children and
adolescents who could fit either diagnostic la-
bel (SLI or SLD) and to whom different labels
might apply across their childhood and ado-
lescence. It has been used in the literature
to comprise both SLI and SLD, and we sug-
gest that it might be helpful in avoiding false
dichotomies that obscure the language base
common to both.
CHANGES IN SLI AND SLD ACROSS TIME
AND CONTEXTS: TURNS AND BUMPS IN
THE ROAD
Longitudinal research supports the contin-
uing challenges facing children with early
language disorders, as well as overlaps be-
tween those who begin with SLI, some-
times called language impairment, without
the “specific”, and those who later are identi-
fied with SLD, sometimes called learning dis-
ability, without the “specific” (e.g., Bishop,
2003, 2009; McArthur, Hogben, Edwards,
Heath, & Mengler, 2000). Stothard, Snowling,
Bishop, Chipchase, and Kaplan (1998) found
that children with a diagnosis of language
impairment at young ages (kindergarten or
younger) continued to experience language
and academic difficulties as adolescents even
if their language difficulties seemed to have re-
solved early. Tomblin, Zang, Buckwalter, and
O’Brien (2003) found that 60% of the chil-
dren with language disorders they identified at
kindergarten in their epidemiological sample
continued to show persistent language impair-
ments through fourth grade. Similarly, Young
et al. (2002) found that children with a diag-
nosis of language impairment at the age of 5
years continued to lag behind at the age of 19
years in all domains of academic achievement
(spelling, reading comprehension, word iden-
tification, word attack, calculation), even after
controlling for intelligence.
Making the implicit connection between
early language disorders and later academic
difficulties more explicit, Young et al. (2002)
found that children with a diagnosis of lan-
guage impairment in the preschool period
were more likely to have academic difficul-
ties severe enough to be classified as learning
disability than their non–language-impaired
peers. They noted that LD was determined if
achievement in a particular academic area was
below the 25th percentile according to the
test norms in their study. Indeed, the chronic
and long-term effects of early language dis-
orders suggest that SLI and SLD may be in-
distinguishable in many children. Not all chil-
dren who start out with SLI, however, qual-
ify for SLD services in their school-age years.
Young et al. posited that many factors can
influence this pathway, including the nature
of children’s early language disorders, the im-
pact and focus of preschool intervention, and
home literacy practices, among other factors.
Other studies have shown that children
with SLI, such as Tim, who was introduced at
the beginning of this article, have a higher risk
of having later learning difficulties (e.g., Catts,
Bridges, Little, & Tomblin, 2008; Catts, Fey,
Zhang, & Tomblin, 1999; Grizzle & Simms,
2009; Scott, 2011). These later learning diffi-
culties may take the form of problems acquir-
ing higher levels of spoken language compre-
hension and expression (e.g., Nippold, 2007;
Scott & Balthazar, 2010; Suddarth, Plante, &
Vance, 2012; Ward-Lonergan & Duthie, 2012),
as well as with reading and writing (Catts
& Kamhi, 2005; Poe, Burchinal, & Roberts,
2004).
Acquiring literacy involves more than sim-
ply developing phonological and phonemic
awareness, phonics, decoding skills, and read-
ing fluency (Justice, 2006; Justice & Ezell,
2002; Snowling & Hayiou-Thomas, 2006).
Catts, Compton, Tomblin, and Bridges (2012)
noted that late-emerging poor readers (i.e.,
students who start to show reading problems
around fourth grade but who had adequate
reading achievement in early school years)
Copyright © 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
30 TOPICS IN LANGUAGE DISORDERS/JANUARY–MARCH 2014
may have had unidentified deficits in language
and/or other cognitive abilities at younger
ages.
A number of studies have shown that
phonological difficulties place children at risk
of deficient reading decoding, but more com-
prehensive language impairments contribute
to poor reading comprehension (Nation,
Clarke, Marshall, & Durand, 2004; Snowling
& Hayiou-Thomas, 2006). Comprehensive lan-
guage impairments also may contribute to dif-
ficulty understanding the discipline-specific
language of social studies, science, mathemat-
ical story problems, and other academic sub-
jects (Ehren, Murza, & Malani, 2012; Faggella-
Luby, Sampson Graner, Deshler, & Valentino
Drew, 2012). Thus, one of the many chal-
lenges facing school-based SLPs and other spe-
cialists is to recognize some of the literacy-
learning patterns and gaps that occur before
children arrive at school, as well as to evalu-
ate the language knowledge, skills, and strate-
gies that underlie literacy learning across the
grades (Ehren, 2009, 2013).
Children with SLI may come to the task of
learning to read with a broad range of spo-
ken language deficits. Some of these deficits
include those related to gaps in language
content, form, or use; difficulties with met-
alinguistic awareness; and problems organiz-
ing and analyzing information effectively and
efficiently (Catts, Fey, Zhang, & Tomblin,
2001; Catts & Kamhi, 1999; Olivier, Hecker,
Klucken, & Westby, 2000). Children with a
history of SLI are at risk for reading disabilities
because of the interactions among impaired
early spoken language skills and the increas-
ing linguistic demands required by the written
texts they encounter (e.g., Leland, Ociepka, &
Kuonen, 2012; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2012;
Snowling, Bishop, & Stothard, 2000).
Ehren, Hatch, and Ukrainetz (2012) noted
that literacy in the later elementary years
involves more than a “read-to-learn” transi-
tion; rather, middle schoolers and adolescents
must continue to “learn to read” higher level
texts. Although some students with SLI de-
velop adequate decoding and word recog-
nition skills as part of foundational literacy,
the majority of students continue to strug-
gle with reading comprehension that inter-
acts with their ongoing spoken language
problems (e.g., Catts, 2009; Keenan, 2014;
Troia, 2014). School-age students with SLI fre-
quently demonstrate limited and less evolved
vocabulary repertoires, difficulties with com-
plex syntactic structures (including compre-
hension of such structures), and problems
producing and understanding connected dis-
course (Catts & Kamhi, 2005; Ehren, 2009;
Ehren et al., 2012; Eisenberg, 2013; Scott
& Balthazar, 2010; Scott & Windsor; 2000).
These spoken language difficulties follow chil-
dren throughout their school years and con-
tribute to their difficulties in performing the
more advanced linguistic tasks of school, such
as reading and writing curricular content, and
following and attending to complicated in-
structional language that may appear in spo-
ken and/or written form (Catts et al., 2012).
Many children with early language dis-
orders fail to “outgrow” these difficulties
or catch up with their typically developing
peers. The idea of “catching up” is consis-
tent with “illusory recovery,” described by
Scarborough and Dobrich (1990) as a time
period when the students with early language
disorders seem to catch up with their typi-
cally developing peers. This is a time when
they undergo a “spurt” in language learning
that includes developing conversational skills
and basic syntactic ability (Scarborough,
2001). What follows the spurt, however, is a
postspurt plateau. This developmental reality
points to the importance of considering
underlying deficits that may be masked by
early oral language development and the
consequence of failure to evaluate a child’s
language abilities in all modalities, including
preliteracy, literacy, and metalinguistic
skills. Similar to some children with SLI,
children with SLD may not show academic
or language-related learning difficulties until
linguistic and cognitive demands of the task
increase and exceed their limited abilities
(Wong, Graham, Hoskyn, & Berman, 2008).
As this account suggests, the path from
preschool and early language learning to
Copyright © 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
Language Disorders Are Learning Disabilities 31
classroom and curricular expectations and re-
quirements is filled with several unexpected
turns and detours. Failure to account for the
language correlates of reading, writing, and
academic success may mean missing the un-
derlying core of students’ difficulties.
LANGUAGE AS THE EMBEDDED
CURRICULUM OF SCHOOL: ROADMAPS
FOR PRACTITIONERS
Halliday (2004) referred to language skills as
the embedded curriculum of learning, noting
that “language . . . is learning how to mean”
(p. 12; also see Olivier et al., 2000). McKeown,
Beck, and Blake (2009) addressed the impor-
tance of macrostructural knowledge (i.e., the
organization of content-area texts) and its im-
pact upon comprehension, especially when
a topic is new or unfamiliar to a reader (see
Wallach, Charlton, & Bartholomew, 2014, for
a summary of this research).
Problems when language abilities do not
equal expectations of text
Studies of children with SLD and SLI
have demonstrated similar effects of complex
texts. Cawthon, Kay, Lockhart, and Beretvas
(2012) observed the impact of language upon
learning in their study of students with a di-
agnosis of SLD. They noted that the linguistic
complexity of both reading and mathematics
testing items interfered with students’ abil-
ity to demonstrate knowledge. For example,
sentences with multiple relative clauses and
passive voice structures, along with subject-
specific vocabulary, created significant bar-
riers for their students with academic prob-
lems. Scott and Balthazar (2010) identified
similar challenges in comprehending and pro-
ducing what they called “the grammar of in-
formation” in their sample of children with
SLI. This grammar of content-area subjects
includes comprehending and using complex
syntactic and lexical units that take the form
of informationally dense sentences with mul-
tiple nouns, verbs, and adjectives; adverbial
conjunctions that represent time, place, and
condition (among other concepts); and multi-
clause sentences.
Following these themes, Nippold (2007)
discussed the importance of using literate
language forms as students move along the
continuum from oral and contextualized
language to literate and decontextualized lan-
guage. Typically developing peers with strong
foundations in language continue to expand
their vocabulary, increase their sophisticated
use and understanding of complex sentence
structures, begin to enjoy nonliteral meaning
of the text, and extend their background
information through general instruction and
independent reading. In contrast, students
with language learning and academic difficul-
ties struggle with school texts (e.g., Nippold
& Scott, 2009). Helping students to appre-
ciate the relationships signaled by “between
words” connectors (i.e., connecting words
within sentences) and “beyond words” con-
nectors (i.e., words that connect ideas across
sentence boundaries), to facilitate reading
comprehension and production (often in
written form), is critical for school success
regardless of students’ diagnostic labels (Scott
& Balthazar, 2010; Venable, 2003). According
to Nippold (2007), some of the later linguis-
tic forms that students must comprehend
include advanced adverbial conjuncts (e.g.,
moreover,in contrast), adverbs of likelihood
and magnitude (e.g., possibly,extremely),
technical terms related to curricular content
(e.g., bacteria,protein), metalinguistic and
metacognitive verbs (e.g., imply,hypothesis),
words with multiple meanings (e.g., strike,
short), and words with multiple grammatical
functions (e.g., hard,sweet).
The cumulative deficits that students with
LLD experience may be explained by a vari-
ety of underlying issues; for example, insuf-
ficient ability to derive the meaning of new
words through phonological and morpholog-
ical analyses, immature grammatical knowl-
edge and skill, weak background knowledge,
and limited metacognitive skill make reading
higher level text a daunting one (Catts, 2009;
Ehren, 2009; Ehren et al., 2012; Faggella-Luby
et al., 2012; Olivier et al., 2000; Shanahan
Copyright © 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
32 TOPICS IN LANGUAGE DISORDERS/JANUARY–MARCH 2014
& Shanahan, 2012; Wallach, 2008; Wallach,
Charlton, & Christie, 2010).
Because the academic curriculum is
transmitted through language, understand-
ing content-specific language is critical to
learning. Venable (2003) recommended that
clinicians take a closer look at readability that
may have an impact upon word recognition
and reading comprehension. She highlighted
some “trouble spots” that many students
might encounter when reading complex
texts, including unfamiliar vocabulary, espe-
cially words with unfamiliar roots and affixes;
lengthy and complex sentence structures
with multilayered subordination within one
sentence; sentences containing ellipsis, found
when relative clauses include unexpressed
words; pronoun reference and noun substitu-
tion; and sentences with figurative language
(metaphors, idioms, etc.).
Fang and colleagues (Fang, 2006, 2008,
2012; Fang, Schleppegrell, & Moore, 2014)
also suggested clinicians review the “embed-
ded curriculum” that may impose grammatical
challenges for students across content areas
of language arts, science, history, and mathe-
matics. Patkin (2011) examined the interplay
of language and mathematics and supported
the importance of helping students with aca-
demic problems understand double-meaning
words detached from everyday use (e.g.,
power,base,table). Many researchers and
practitioners advocate creating a balance
between the teaching of domain-specific lit-
eracy strategies (e.g., how to read science vs.
how to read history) and more foundational
or generalized literacy skills (Ehren et al.,
2012; Faggella-Luby et al., 2012; Wallach et
al., 2014). As noted by Ehren et al. (2012),
there is a difference between learning literacy
in adisciplineandlearningliteracyof the dis-
cipline. These are challenges for all students,
but even more for children with SLI and SLD.
Clearly, the spoken-to-written and written-
to-spoken relationship along the path to
school success is an ever-changing one. Many
of the early language problems of children
with SLI are apparent as reading and writing
difficulties in the early grades; they evolve to
higher levels of both spoken and written diffi-
culties as students with LLD advance through
the grades (Scarborough, 2005, 2009). Many
of the ongoing changes in language disorders
across time are also reflected in problems with
writing.
Problems with written expression
Writing is especially challenging for many
students with LLD because of linguistic skills
involved in the process and the necessary
integration of content, form, and use of
language (Hall-Mills & Apel, 2012; Suddarth
et al., 2012). In addition, writing involves
metacognitive and cognitive processes such
as executive function/self-regulation (Singer
&Bashir,1999,2004,2012;Westby,2014;
Wong, 1997). Because it takes years for typ-
ically developing students to master writing
skills, a longer learning process may be ex-
pected and necessary to improve the writing
skills of students with LLD. A variety of writing
tasks, including the writing of narrative, ex-
pository, persuasive, argumentative, and de-
scriptive essays, are required in middle and
high school; thus, it is important for us to
understand the changing demands across the
continuum of academic writing requirements
(Nippold, 2007; Paul & Norbury, 2012; Scott,
2011; Wong, 1997).
Writing is viewed as an aspect of language
competence that is reflected in academic per-
formance (Perfetti & McCutchen, 1987). It is
the primary way that students demonstrate
knowledge in school (Graham & Harris, 2004)
and improve their reading skills (Graham &
Herbert, 2010). Writing also helps students
gain employment and communicate widely
(Dockrell, 2014). It is one of the most com-
plex aspects of language and a significant fac-
tor in academic success and the acquisition
of knowledge in school-age years (Singer &
Bashir, 2012). Science, for example, is a disci-
pline that is particularly informed by precise
writing (Fang, 2012).
Making explicit the connection between
LLD and writing problems, Dockrell (2014)
commented,
Copyright © 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
Language Disorders Are Learning Disabilities 33
Difficulties in the production of written text have
been reported both for students with continuing
language difficulties and those with . . . [seem-
ingly] . . . resolved language problems, leading to
the hypothesis that written language can be con-
ceptualized as a window into residual language
problems. (p. 511; emphasis added; also see Bishop
&Clarkson,2003;Fey,Catts,Proctor-Williams,
Tomblin, & Zhang, 2004; Lewis, O’Donnell, Free-
bairn, & Taylor, 1998)
As suggested earlier, linguistic and learn-
ing difficulties often resurface because writ-
ing requires the integration of multiple lin-
guistic and cognitive processes (Bashir &
Singer, 2006; Graham, Harris, & Larsen, 2001).
Looking back to early language experiences,
preschoolers with language disorders often
lack the level of experiences with writing that
children with typical language abilities have,
and they continue to lag behind in the “self-
talk” and planning that is needed to be an
effective writer of one’s language (e.g., Singer
& Bashir, 2012; Snowling & Hayiou-Thomas,
2006).
While examining narrative and expository
text across spoken and written systems, Scott
and Windsor (2000) found that children with
SLI performed more poorly in writing, es-
pecially in expository discourse, than their
peers. Other researchers have shown that
school-age children with language disorders
have greater macro-level difficulty writing and
organizing narrative and expository texts and
greater micro-level difficulty forming complex
sentences (Mackie, Dockrell, & Lindsay, 2013;
Puranik, Lombardino, & Altmann, 2007). Chil-
dren and adolescents with LLD need explicit
instruction and scaffolds to use executive
functions (e.g., “Plan what you want to write
with self-talk, use your graphic organizer,
and re-read what’s written”) to facilitate their
writing of connected text (Singer & Bashir,
2012).
Koutsoftas and Gray (2012) also found that
students with SLI produced poorer lexical
diversity and sentence complexity, produc-
tivity, and spelling accuracy in both narra-
tive and expository writing than their typ-
ically developing peers. Similarly, Hall-Mills
and Apel (2012) found that low levels of
syntactic complexity and higher level gram-
matical errors were indicated to a greater
extent in expository text than in narrative
writings. Looking further down the contin-
uum, however, they found that limited or
less sophisticated text structure knowledge
persisted in both genres in adolescents with
SLI. More errors in spelling, punctuation, lexi-
cal choices, subject–verb agreement, and use
of advanced sentence structures are aspects
of micro-level issues reported in the writings
of students with ongoing language disorders.
Suddarth et al. (2012) further evaluated writ-
ing in adults with a history of SLI. Their study
revealed that significantly more errors (e.g.,
a combination of spelling, word-choice, verb
tense, punctuation, and other errors) were
produced in the written narratives of adults
with a history of SLI than that in the writ-
ten narratives of adults with typical language
development.
Dockrell (2014) provided school-based and
other professionals with cautionary advice
that speaks to the themes of this article.
She noted that there are significant overlaps
among various diagnostic categories used to
describe children and adolescents with writ-
ing difficulties (also see Dockrell, Lindsay, &
Connelly, 2009). In addition, Dockrell (2014)
observed that labels provide “insufficient in-
formation to guide intervention” (p. 513).
She added that difficulties in capturing differ-
ences, for example, between those children
identified as having SLI and those identified
as having learning disability may involve “ar-
bitrary cutoffs used to identify learning dis-
abilities” and heterogeneity within and be-
tween groups (p. 513). Not surprisingly, stu-
dents identified as having learning disability
experience many difficulties that are similar
to those reported in students with SLI. These
include more spelling and punctuation errors,
shorter compositions, poor word selections,
and difficulties with coherence and organiza-
tion of text as a whole (Graham et al., 2001;
Li & Hamel, 2003; Monroe & Troia, 2006).
Copyright © 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
34 TOPICS IN LANGUAGE DISORDERS/JANUARY–MARCH 2014
To be a proficient writer, students must plan,
translate, and review their work—skills that
are interactive with the writer’s knowledge of
the topic, audience, and writing plans (Flower
&Hayes,1984;Grahametal.,2001;Singer&
Bashir, 2012). Students with SLI and learning
disability frequently use a retrieve-and-write
approach (i.e., write down relevant informa-
tion they want to say about the topic) with a
lack of planning and revising skills (Monroe
& Troia, 2006; Singer & Bashir, 2012; Wong,
1997). All of these findings point to many sim-
ilarities and few if any differences among the
heterogeneous group of children with LLD,
whether they are first identified with a label
of SLI or SLD.
CONCLUSION
We summarize the following three key
points related to the theses that we have de-
veloped within this article. These can serve as
guides to decision making and communicat-
ing with parents and others about the needs
of children with SLI and SLD.
First, children’s diagnostic labels may
change from language disorders to learning
disabilities when they come to school and ex-
perience academic difficulties, but their lin-
guistic needs continue and are a common fea-
ture of both SLI and SLD. The majority of chil-
dren newly identified as having SLD have ex-
isting language/literacy needs that may have
been unidentified previously and that should
be addressed. Identifying the language corre-
lates of academic tasks is critical (regardless
of students’ diagnostic labels) and may help
clinicians to create more relevant and func-
tional interventions that are curriculum-based
and literacy-focused.
Second, early language disorders are
chronic and tend to follow children through
time, manifesting themselves differently
based upon an individual’s inherent abilities,
language-learning contexts, and learning tasks
(Bashir & Scavuzzo, 1992). Speech–language
pathologists must be aware of the language
underpinnings of school tasks (Ehren, 2009,
2013) and the nature and timing of “illusion-
ary recoveries.”
Third, definitions of literacy have broad-
ened to include many types of literacy, such
as foundational literacy (e.g., basic decod-
ing and comprehension), content-area liter-
acy (e.g., predicting, inferencing, managing
expository text), and discipline-specific liter-
acy (e.g., paying attention to the different lan-
guage requirements of subjects). These dif-
ferent layers of literacy represent the lin-
guistic demands all children face in curricu-
lar learning. Intervention goals and targeted
language learning strategies should change
accordingly to guide effective and relevant
intervention.
In conclusion, we propose that the major-
ity of learning disabilities are language dis-
orders that have changed over time. SLD is
not a “new” and distinct condition that ar-
rives when children enter school, as we told
Tim’s mother in the scenario that opened this
discussion. In addition, we offer the follow-
ing questions: Does the term learning dis-
ability adequately capture the ongoing verbal-
linguistic needs of our students? Do current as-
sessment and intervention approaches reflect
the ongoing language-based learning difficul-
ties of our students who have academic chal-
lenges? Are there better ways for professionals
across disciplines and service delivery sites to
collaborate to address the needs of these chil-
dren and adolescents with LLD, regardless of
their individual labels? These are questions,
among others, that readers are asked to con-
sider. We hope that they will stimulate re-
newed efforts on the part of researchers to in-
vestigate relationships of language and learn-
ing disorders and renewed efforts on the part
of clinicians to support better communication
with parents, students, and other profession-
als with shared caseloads and concerns.
Copyright © 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
Language Disorders Are Learning Disabilities 35
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... This report does not make it clear how many of these students were receiving services for both speech and language impairments and specific learning disability, but there is a clear trend of an age-related disparity in disability labels under the IDEA classifications. The reality is that even with proper diagnosis and treatment, which is not always available (Poll et al., 2010), children with DLD are likely to experience difficulties in all facets of language and literacy through adolescence (Sun & Wallach, 2014) and well into their adult lives (Fidler et al., 2011;Johnson et al., 1999). The treatment of language disorders and learning disabilities as mutually-exclusive categories is also problematic because language disorders are learning disabilities (Sun & Wallach, 2014). ...
... The reality is that even with proper diagnosis and treatment, which is not always available (Poll et al., 2010), children with DLD are likely to experience difficulties in all facets of language and literacy through adolescence (Sun & Wallach, 2014) and well into their adult lives (Fidler et al., 2011;Johnson et al., 1999). The treatment of language disorders and learning disabilities as mutually-exclusive categories is also problematic because language disorders are learning disabilities (Sun & Wallach, 2014). ...
... Language abilities underlie almost every academic skill that falls under the umbrella classically considered for learning disability labels in school-age children. While children with DLD will have difficulties with reading, mathematics, and writing that fall under the scope of resource support, many of these issues will be the direct result of their linguistic impairments and they will still need and benefit from the support of SLP services (Sun & Wallach, 2014). ...
Thesis
Purpose: Developmental language disorder (DLD) affects individuals through childhood into adulthood. However, we do not know how this disorder affects the written language abilities of college students, for whom writing difficulties may cause significant academic issues. This study sought to explore and characterize the differences in writing ability, planning strategies for writing, and revision tendencies of college students with and without DLD. We also sought to determine whether meaningful differences exist in the types of information gained from handwritten and typed writing samples. Method: Fifty college-enrolled young adults between the ages of 18 – 22 were recruited and divided in to two equal groups (25 with DLD, 25 with typical language). Each completed two writing prompts (one by hand and one on the computer) and a survey of their writing habits. Their writing samples were analyzed for length, complexity, and the presence of errors at the word and sentence levels. Video recordings of their typing and photos of their handwriting were analyzed for their revision tendencies. Responses to the survey were analyzed for group differences in use of planning strategies. Results: Expository samples written by college students with DLD are likely to have fewer words and more syntactic errors than the samples written by their peers with typical language. College students with and without DLD are likely to write samples with the same levels of syntactic complexity, lexical diversity, and word-level errors. Typing is conducive to longer samples for college students with and without DLD. There are no major differences in the strategies college students with and without DLD report using for planning for writing assignments. There is no relationship between number of on-line revisions and total number of errors for college students with DLD. Conclusions: The lack of practically significant group differences between college students with and without DLD in terms of writing quality and complexity highlights the importance of individual strengths-and-needs-based assessment and intervention for this population. Typing is a highly practical and functional manner of measuring writing ability for college students with and without DLD that could yield useful clinical information.
... [23][24][25][26] On the contrary, children with reading difficulties, such as dyslexic children, are likely to experience language difficulties, 17,27-29 while it seems that good language skills are used to compensate for word-level reading difficulties. 30,31 It has even been suggested that dyslexia is a form of language impairment 5,28,[32][33][34] or that SLI is a more severe form of dyslexia. 18 However, research focusing on whether there are underlying phonological deficits in SLI-the main cause of difficulties in dyslexia 9,35-36 -is inconclusive with most researchers arguing in favor, 9,16,34,35,37,38 but others placing less importance on these defi-sub-tests. ...
... 44 Consequently, children, adolescents and young adults facing language and learning difficulties may be identified with different diagnostic labels across their lifespan and struggle with inappropriate interventions. 5 The acknowledgement of the above consideration is strongly reflected in DSM-5 4 where it is specified that the valid diagnostic procedure for SLI and SLD disorders does not lie only to the three basic specifiers (ex. in the domains of reading, written expression and mathematics in SLD), neither on the level of the condition's severity (mild, moderate, severe). A number of issues and parameters should be taken into account, such as obtaining both quantitative and qualitative information from a number of different sources, considering the important changes in mani-festation of symptoms that occur from preschool years to adulthood. ...
... In addition, the fact that the SLD group did not exhibit difficulties in the oral language tasks only partially agrees with the argument that a spoken and/ or written language disorder consists a learning disorder and vice versa, 5 since it seems that this might be the case only during the early school years but not at the age of adolescence. The present findings are in accordance with research arguing that SLD adolescents are more likely to have overcome basic skills deficits at that age, albeit they exhibit higher level deficits. ...
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S pecific Language Impairment (SLI) and Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) have been the subject of extensive research especially with respect to the connection between them. However, the manifestation of these disorders in adolescence has not been thoroughly investigated. The objective of the present study was to compare the intelligence scores and the reading, oral and written language skills of Greek adolescents with SLI and Greek adolescents with SLD, as assessed during their psycho-educational evaluation, in order to clear the path for diagnosis and intervention. 124 Greek adolescents diagnosed with Specific Learning Disabilities and 76 Greek adolescents diagnosed with Specific Language Impairment aged from 11 to 16 years took part in the study. All participants were assessed in reading, oral language and written language skills and took part in IQ testing. Independent samples t-test, chi-square test, odds ratios and their 95 percent confidence intervals were implemented to determine statistically significant differences. Analyses revealed differences in IQ scores and some differences in the skills assessed, thus indicating that SLI adolescents exhibited more difficulties across most of the basic academic skills, whereas SLD adolescents' difficulties confined to the affected written language skills. Specifically, the observed difference was statistically significant for the total and verbal IQ score, and WISC-III scores also disclosed a significant difference for the similarities and information
... For instance, "dyslexia" in the context of SLI, "reading disorder" or "specific reading disorder" evident in individuals with "special language impairment" [3;4;6, etc.],the concept of a 'double deficit' [67], etc. Hence, if we consider that the term 'learning disability' is associated with a disorder in oral and/or written language; therefore it would be valid to assume that a learning disability could also be considered as a language impairment [70]. Even the term "Language Learning Impairment" (LLI) has been proposed by researchers, to better describe the cases in which this overlap is most evident [71]. ...
... Even the term "Language Learning Impairment" (LLI) has been proposed by researchers, to better describe the cases in which this overlap is most evident [71]. SLI is manifested in the child's first attempts to internalize the oral language competence, while SLD is identified in the child's first school years by his/her weakness to obtain written language [70]. The presence of SLD in mathematics poses various challenges to students΄ performance in tasks involving the correct transfer of numbers in the paper, multiple steps in calculations, effective management of word problems, proper use of mathematical symbols, the distinction between right and left [14]. ...
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SLI and SLD constitute two autonomous neurodevelopmental disorders, which frequently cause challenges in the diagnosis process, especially due to their nature, which has caused disagreement among clinicians regarding their recognition as separate or overlapping disorders. The objective of the study was to enlighten the path of valid diagnosis and intervention during adolescence when the two disorders change their manifestation and overlap. 200 Greek adolescents (140 boys and 60 girls), 124 already diagnosed with SLD and 76 diagnosed with SLI, 12-16 years old, participated in the study. All participants were assessed in reading, oral and written language and mathematics (mathematical operations and mathematical reasoning) along with IQ testing. In order to determine statistically significant differences, the chi-square test, independent samples t-test, odd ratios and their 95 per cent confidence intervals were implemented. The results revealed that the SLI group presented significantly greater difficulties than SLD in their overall cognitive-mental profile and in most language and mathematical measurements (number concept, executive-procedural part of solving operations and mathematical reasoning). The similarity of the two groups was mainly detected in their deficient metacognitive, metalinguistic and metamnemonic strategies. The research concludes that SLD adolescents managed to overcome their difficulties to a significant degree, while adolescents with SLI still struggle with many learning areas.
... Dilihat dari fungsi serta lokasi anatomis, gangguan berbahasa (language disorders) dikategorikan sebagai gangguan "wicara-bahasa" yang lebih kompleks dibandingkan gangguan wicara (speech disorders) (Gillam, et al., 2017;Laksmidewi, 2018;Sun & Wallach, 2014). Dalam istilah medis, gangguan bahasa disebut afasia (Arifuddin, 2010;Dardjowidjojo, 2003;Schoeman & Van der Merwe, 2010;Whitaker, 2007). ...
... The term LLD has been used in the literature to refer to students who demonstrate a range of difficulties related to the understanding and use of spoken and written language. 25 ASHA offers evidence-based guidelines and recommendations on how to address the assessment of CLD populations, even as a monolingual SLP, in an effort to facilitate differential diagnosis of CLD children. 5,26,27 Recommendations include the use of highly pragmatic tests and communication samples if standardized tests are not available in the child's primary language. ...
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