Typical and Atypical Language Development

Each child who effortlessly learns the language of his/her caregiver achieves a mini-miracle. First words, first sentences, understanding instructions, using word endings, having a conversation, learning to read – so many steps to learn and rules to follow. Yet most children walk this road with apparent ease. Others, however, may be slower to begin saying words or delayed in their learning to put words and sentences together. Children who are having difficulty learning their native language despite having no other developmental difficulties and typically stimulating environments are said to have a Developmental Language Disorder (Bishop et al., 2017; also known as, Specific Language Impairment (SLI) Leonard 1998).

One frustration in trying to understand DLD is that children struggling to learn to talk do not form a cohesive group. They have difficulty with varying aspects of language, in diverse circumstances, and at different stages of development. We assume that if we could better understand the underlying causes of children’s language learning difficulties, we could better understand each child’s problem and how to help. Some children may experience a specific difficulty managing the phonological system, the speech sound system that forms the building blocks of language. Some children with DLD have been found to have difficulty recalling sounds in new words (Archibald & Gathercole, 2006), noticing small differences in speech sounds (Joanisse et al., 2000), and isolating sounds in words (Boudreau & Hedberg, 1999). These children appear to have a phonological processing deficit that interferes with language learning. Other children may have limitations in their working memory capacity generally. These children may struggle in particularly demanding situations such as when they need to be doing more than one thing at a time. At times, it may be difficult for these children to produce or understand language.