Specific Language Impairment

Specific Language Impairment or SLI affects 10% of the population. In any pre-school class of 30 children, there would be at least 3 children with SLI. Typically these children have difficulty: comprehending instructions, telling stories, using correct grammatical forms, understanding jokes, with reading comprehension and with written expression. While children with normally developing speech and language abilities start to develop their vocabularies, sentence length and accuracy of grammatical forms at 2 years of age, children with SLI will often start this development at around 4 years of age. We know that oral language competency is the greatest predictor of literacy outcomes. Why is it then that our Education system insists that children with SLI begin to learn literacy before they have a robust language system? What our Education System should be doing is delaying literacy learning until children have an adequate oral language mastery. If children with SLI have language skills which are behind their peers then they should start their literacy learning when their oral language is developed to the same level as the oral language of their peers when they commence their literacy learning. Speech Pathologists play an important role in promoting oral language development and it is crucial these children with oral language difficulties have access to Speech Pathologists within the Education system. Anything less is setting children with SLI up for academic risk. What evidence does this current Government have for introducing literacy skills earlier and earlier as they are currently advocating? What they should be providing is Oral Language Intensive Programs for all children at risk. A group of schools could refer children into this specialised Oral Language Unit. Literacy learning could be delayed  until the individual child's oral language was robust enough to support it . Once their literacy skills were on a par with that of their  peers, these children could return to their own schools. This would be a far better way of addressing the declining literacy standards of  our country. Twenty years ago we understood that some children just were not ready for formal schooling and were flexible in our school entry policy. Children with delayed language could stay at home and have the rich one-on-one language stimulation parents are able to provide with the guidance of their home speech pathology program.  Here  in 2012 we consider all children born between the 1st July to the 30th June to be the same even though we know they are not. A system which calls itself inclusive needs to look at their real obligations to children affected by SLI.

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