September 9, 2015
What is Dysphasia?
Dysphasia is a persistent and language-specific disorder which impairs the child’s comprehension and expression of language. While the causes of this language disorder remain uncertain, researchers have noticed genetic and neurological differences in dysphasic children’s brains, which might be the source of their struggles. Nevertheless, specialists agree on one point: dysphasia has nothing to do with any lack of stimulation, deafness or other intellectual disabilities or delays.
In most cases children with dysphasia have normal intelligence and show enthusiasm in their desire to communicate. The consequences of this disorder will usually spread to other spheres of their lives because their difficulty to understand and be understood will generate much frustration.
In about half the cases, when children exhibit a delay in their spoken or expressive language skills, the situation resolves itself naturally and they will begin to speak in a spontaneous manner between around two or three years of age. We refer to these children as “late-talkers.”
However, for the other half, the disorder will persist, sometimes past the age of 6 years despite the right support and resources. This is when dysphasia is the likely cause.
What Are the Common Signs of Dysphasia?
Receptive Dysphasia (impairs the comprehension and meaning of language):
- Limited understanding of spoken language;
- Difficulty understanding abstract words;
- Difficulty comprehending question words and telling these apart (e.g.: what, who, when, where, why, etc.);
- Difficulty understanding long and/or complex (meaningful) sentences;
- Understanding expressions literally rather than figuratively (e.g.: when hearing “it's raining cats and dogs,” the child may expect to see cats and dogs falling out of the sky)
Expressive language (impairs the production of speech):
- Difficulty with word forming and articulation (jumbled words);
- Trouble finding the right words when communicating;
- Excessive use of filler words or phrases (e.g.:“thing” or “that sort of stuff”);
- Impression the child is speaking a foreign language;
- Incorrect grammatical sequencing (words in the wrong order);
- Hesitant speech with frequent pauses;
- Difficulty describing a concept or idea verbally;
- “Telegraphing”: the omission of articles and conjunctions may also be exhibited.
The following are examples of how dysphasia will impair a child’s language skills:
- Jon Danzig’s documentary “Speaking Out”
- Communication Trust’s “The Way We Talk” shows how children with language, speech and communication disorders express themselves
How Does Dysphasia Affect My Child?
Out of all known speech and language impairments, it is often said that dysphasia is the most common learning disorder, often associated with difficult behaviour. The child will become frustrated since his or her trouble articulating words or capacity to voice coherent sentences makes it difficult for parents to understand what he or she is trying to say. This is not a simple speech problem, but one that affects communication on all levels.
Given their frustration with not being understood, these children will resort to other means of expression that can manifest in the form of tantrums or aggressive behaviour, such as yelling, crying or hitting. They have a tendency to stop trying to communicate and become withdrawn. They often feel solitude and develop low self-esteem.
Parents who perceive a delay or anomaly in their child’s speech development should contact a pediatrician, who will refer them to a speech therapist.
What Happens Then?
In the event that a child’s parents or teacher suspect dysphasia, the best course of action is to meet a speech therapist. This is the professional who can evaluate the child’s disorder and provide treatment for expressive and receptive speech and language impairments.
Keep in mind that the earlier a child is diagnosed, the better the results and his or her chances at regular school progress and academic performance. So while dysphasia can be diagnosed at the age of 5 years old, a qualified speech therapist can start working with a child as young as 3 years old to minimize the effects of speech impairment.
Once diagnosed, the child’s struggles are identified and can be better understood, allowing parents to offer appropriate support and the situation to be handled better, as dysphasia often affects family relationships.
However, the only proper way to treat this impairment remains to refer to a specialist and the efficiency of his interventions will depend mostly on:
- the severity of the initial disorder;
- how early it was diagnosed;
- the efficiency of the therapy;
- family support;
- the presence and severity of future troubles linked to the disorder.
An early intervention is not only beneficial for the child, but for parents as well, as they are central participants in the child’s education and treatment. The child can relay what he or she has learned or any progress made at home. Joining a support group can also be helpful for parents. The members of these groups will often be professionals and parents in the same situation who can offer support, information and advice.
Finally, keep in mind that the key to success is teamwork: family, school and speech therapist must work together so appropriate measures can be taken to favour the child’s academic progress and social integration at school. A personalized intervention plan may have to be implemented for better chances of success.
The Eastern townships have created a foundation which is meant to help parents and sometimes teachers better understand and cope with dysphasia. Services offering include:
- lectures and seminars;
- documentation centre with several resources;
- support for parents with intervention plans (financial aid applications to help them obtain certain services);
- educational activities to help children overcome their difficulties and teach parents how encourage their child to develop their language abilities.