Language Delays & Disorders
Language develops along a continuum. In the earliest stages of development, babies learn to use gestural communication and social referencing as a way to gain their parent's attention. Vocalizations become filled with communicative intent and from this children map meaning onto language. Newborns make connections between sounds in their environment, such as the voice of a caretaker, and the speech sounds in their language. By age 6 months, babies recognize the basic sounds of their native language.
Language acquisition and development is based on receptive, expressive, and pragmatic functions. Receptive language skills enable a child to understand what is said or written while expressive language refers to a child's ability to generate ideas to communicate both orally and in writing. Pragmatic language refers to the verbal and non-verbal rules for social interactions. In addition to social rules and conversation, pragmatic language skills are the basis for interpreting multiple word meanings, figures of speech, and integrating information from multiple sources.
There is a natural developmental progression for language development. Specific language milestones assist doctors and health care professionals with identifying children who need additional language services to boost their skills. Delays may be due to hearing loss or the result of a speech or language disorder.
Children who are unable to understand and process language (receptive language) or express themselves (expressive) may present with a language disorder. Specific language impairment (SLI) is a language disorder that delays the mastery of language skills. Some children with SLI may not begin to talk until age 3 or 4. Problems treated range from mild language delays to more severe language problems associated with Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) and Autism-Spectrum Disorders (ASD).