"No Steven, I said before you take out your reading book pack up your pencils". "I see your pencils here all over the desk". "You need to focus Steven and listen to instructions". Steven is in Year 2. He is aware his teacher is annoyed with him as she has now raised her voice. However, for the third time today, he does not know what he did to make her so annoyed. "Before" is a word that does not mean a great deal to Steven so he just does things in the order he hears them.
"I want you to bring me your work but not if you still have questions to go". "Chelsea why did you bring me your work?" I said not to bring it if you have questions to go. Go back to your desk and finish them. Chelsea does not understand the notion of the conditional instruction so she carries out what she does know which is only the first part of this instruction. Often we repeat the part of the instruction a child does not comprehend rather than demonstrate it. Repeating the confusing part of the instruction does nothing to ensure a child will not make the same mistake next time.
Steven and Chelsea have specific language impairments and following instructions in the classroom are just one of their difficulties. At recess time, both Steven and Chelsea are observed to play by themselves or just watch their peers as they play complex imaginary games around fairies or superheroes. Steven and Chelsea are unable to join in as they do not understand the idea of role-playing and cannot think of what to say. By watching and not participating they protect themselves from getting their part in the game wrong and being the object of ridicule from their peers.
Both Steven and Chelsea want to please so when their teacher asks the class a question, they put their hand up like everyone else. If they are asked to answer the question, they respond with "I forgot" or just stare at the floor wanting their teacher to think they are too shy to talk in public. In reality, they have not understood the question and cannot supply the answer.
Steven and Chelsea find Maths worksheets daunting as they have to remember what the symbols mean and do something with the numbers. Class worksheets usually mean there is no-one around to give them step by step instructions in small chunks and demonstrate the process for them. They will often sit for the lesson and not put pen to paper or draw. Steven has discovered that if he distracts his classmates he is likely to be sent out of class and that way he will not have to attempt the sheet which is just another reminder of his difficulties.
Both Steven and Chelsea talk well. They have all their speech sounds and often do well with their sound identification in a class setting. Chelsea draws beautifully and Steven does very well for his faction at the sports carnival. Their teacher notes that both Steven's and Chelsea's sentences are short and contain some grammatical errors. Chelsea will often name objects by their function e.g. stove as "cook" or tap as "water" but this is attributed to immaturity. Steven and Chelsea need a lot of prompting at news time and rarely ask a question.
Chelsea's mother has noted she has not wanted to go to school in the morning and she has been called to the school on several occasions to bring her daughter home due to stomach pain or feelings of nausea. She is shocked when Chelsea's teacher suggests an assessment by a Speech Pathologist as she feels Chelsea has nothing wrong with her speech. She does agree, however, that Chelsea has difficulty following instructions and getting herself organised for school in the morning.
There can be as many as three children in any class in an Early Childhood setting who have specific language impairments (SLI). Children with SLI can often be difficult to identify as they often develop a number of coping strategies such as watching what the other children are doing before they act, or pretending to be shy, or act as the class clown when asked a question or given and instruction.
Children with SLI require an intensive language intervention program conducted by a speech pathologist with involvement of the child's teacher and parents. Ideally, a certain level of language mastery should be achieved before children commence their formal literacy learning. This is so children can enjoy listening to stories by comprehending the meaning of the text and be able to sequence the events of the story understanding the cause/effect relationships and the roles the characters play.
Having teachers work collaboratively with speech pathologists in a classroom setting can provide a more productive, and less anxiety-provoking learning setting for the many children with SLI in our schools. This approach is likely to improve the educational outcomes for children who otherwise would have been at educational risk due to their specific language impairment.
Children with SLI do not have intellectual impairments. They have specific language impairments and if managed correctly, will achieve academically and go onto become wonderful contributors, and productive members of our communities.