Helping Children with Communication Disorders in the Schools

Answers to frequently asked questions on how to help children with communication disorders, particularly in regards to speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

What kinds of speech and language disorders affect children?

Speech and language disorders can affect the way children talk, understand, analyze or process information. Speech disorders include the clarity, voice quality, and fluency of a child's spoken words. Language disorders include a child's ability to hold meaningful conversations, understand others, problem solve, read and comprehend, and express thoughts through spoken or written words.

How many children receive treatment for speech and language disorders in the schools?

The number of children with disabilities, ages 3-21, served in the public schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B in Fall 2003 was 6,068,802 (in the 50 states, D.C., and outlying areas). Of these children, 1,460,583 (24.1%) received services for speech or language disorders. This estimate does not include children who have speech/language problems secondary to other conditions.

How do speech, language, and hearing disorders affect learning?

Communication skills are at the heart of life's experience, particularly for children who are developing language critical to cognitive development and learning. Reading, writing, gesturing, listening, and speaking are all forms of language – a code we learn to use in order to communicate ideas.

Learning takes place through the process of communication. The ability to participate in active and interactive communication with peers and adults in the educational setting is essential for a student to succeed in school.

Why are speech and language skills so critical for literacy?

Spoken language provides the foundation for the development of reading and writing. Spoken and written language have a reciprocal relationship – each builds on the other to result in general language and literacy competence, starting early and continuing through childhood into adulthood.

What are signs that a communication disorder is affecting school performance?

Children with communication disorders frequently perform at a poor or insufficient academic level, struggle with reading, have difficulty understanding and expressing language, misunderstand social cues, avoid attending school, show poor judgement, and have difficulty with tests.

Difficulty in learning to listen, speak, read, or write can result from problems in language development. Problems can occur in the production, comprehension, and awareness of language at the sound, syllable, word, sentence, and discourse levels. Individuals with reading and writing problems also may experience difficulties in using language strategically to communicate, think, and learn.

How do speech-language pathologists work with teachers and other school personnel to insure children get the support they need?

Assessment and treatment of children's communication problems involve cooperative efforts with others such as parents, audiologists, psychologists, social workers, classroom teachers, special education teachers, guidance counselors, physicians, dentists, and nurses. Speech-language pathologists work with diagnostic and educational evaluation teams to provide comprehensive language and speech assessments for children.

Services to students with communication problems may be provided in individual or small group sessions, in classrooms or when teaming with teachers or in a consultative model with teachers and parents. Speech-language pathologists integrate students' communication goals with academic and social goals.

How can speech-language pathology services help children with speech and language disorders?

Speech-language pathology services can help children become effective communicators, problem-solvers and decision-makers. As a result of services such as memory retraining, cognitive reorganization, language enhancement, and efforts to improve abstract thinking, children can benefit from a more successful and satisfying educational experience as well as improved peer relationships. The services that speech-language pathologists provide can help children overcome their disabilities, achieve pride and self-esteem, and find meaningful roles in their lives.


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). To assure the free appropriate public education of all Americans: Twenty-seventh annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Accessed January 16, 2008,

Republished with permission of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) © 2005


For any reprint requests, please contact the author or publisher listed.


How can schools create inclusive education for students with speech and language difficulties?

I’m trying to find games for my 15 yr old who has a social communication disorder. She is not on the spectrum. She has a well above average working memory but a well below average processing speed. She loves to play games. Recommend any lang. games?

Hi my baby girl is 4 years turning 5 but the only word she is saying is mama and sometimes papa but to my understanding she react to sound and when we talk to her, she would speak to us using her hands to also point what she needs, her momery looks good because she' can recall things and rhymes but won't be able to sing it

School boards should make it general knowledge to teachers and staff that language delay is a real thing. After 2 seperate pediatrician reports and I don't know how many other people involved from different groups and organizations. Also being held back a year in kindergarten imagine that. With much difficulty getting my son an education now in grade 5, and 12 years old and unfortunately thanks to Covid-19 he is attending school daily in a regular grade 5 class rather than getting pulled out of class all the time or being sent home with a suspension. I have been working with him to fill in and understand many root lessons that he never got even in JK or K, like basic alphabet and addition bases, that he never got, still struggling some but I am proud to say half year done, regular grade 5 class and almost top of his class with nothing less than a B- in sciences and language classes. ....Something needs to get done before more kids get lost in the system. Because some school ressource aid and teachers that had nothing to do with him, insisted he be treated as an autistic child rather then language delay, until second pediatrician after a 2 year wait list of referal wait time come back with a nasty documented and signed and not pleased to wasting time and education rather than doing their jobs.

Very concerned for my child's quality of life and education .

Cyndi, thank you!!!! I think that it is so important for parents to know/understand the identification process up front! It is not that schools do not want to get students the help that they need, it's just that there is a specific process that we must go through to get those interventions. Trust me when I say that the process is frustrating to teachers as well, but this is the process that we must go through. Also, parents need to understand that these are state and federal mandates that schools must abide by.

I am an experienced SLP who works in a large public school district. I felt compelled to reply to two comments, one on referrals and one on privately diagnosed CAPD. Please don't recommend that parents contact the school counselor if they suspect their child has a communication disorder. They need to discuss issues with their child's gen Ed classroom teacher first. In most public school districts, the classroom teacher develops specific interventions in the RTI (response to intervention) process. Teachers & other gen Ed staff run interventions in Tier 1 & Tier 2. If interventions are not successful, staff proceed to Tire 3 then to Special Education Staff. The school counselor may conduct Tier 3 RTI in some school districts but the gen. ed teacher is the first contact. A private evaluation provides information. A private evaluation or private diagnosis does not mean that an IEP or 504 are automatically written. Furthermore, an IEP is an "individual" education plan which means a students plan is determined by the IEP Team during the results of evaluation meeting. Based on ASHA: "An auditory processing disorder alone does not qualify as an IDEA disability but a diagnosis of auditory processing disorder can help to guide intervention strategies for students who already receive special education services for another disability. Auditory processing disorder testing should not form the basis of qualifying a student for an IEP. Refer to ECEA Rule 2.08 (7) (a) and 2.08 (7) (a) (ii) which states that auditory processing deficits may be classified as a speech language disorder under the headings of articulation, fluency, functional communication, or delayed language development.

When dealing with communication disorders, it is very important to promote a holistic approach to treatment. As a preschool and pre-k teacher, I find that the students who improve most rapidly are those whose parents, teachers, and speech-language pathologists are continuously in contact about goals and expectations. More so, it is important to realize the ramifications that a slow response to diagnoses, or a misdiagnoses can have. The dropout rate for students with disabilities is approximately twice that of general education students (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996). Therefore, it is crucial for parents, teachers and counselors to know the warning signs for communication disorders and routinely check and test for the expected level of communication for the child’s age group.

Blackorby, J., & Wagner, M. (1996). Longitudinal postschool outcomes of youth with disabilities: Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study. Exceptional Children, 62(5), 399-413.

The put downs and come backs activity was extremely helpful! Prior to reading this section I would not have thought about the diverse causes for these putdowns. As a future counselor it is helpful to think of these underlying messages a child may be sending me. These comments would prompt me to touch base with the child's parent to see how his grades at school are, or to ask if any issues at school exists. If I were working with a parent/family who was tell me that a child was making these comments, I could also help them think more in-depth about what their child is really trying to tell them! Such a fun and informational activity!

Speech Language Pathologists are great resources for a wide variety of issues. SLPs are not only great at helping with speech therapy, but they can teach parents, care givers, and family best practices to assist a struggling child. SLPs are also a great resource for finding/creating alternative communication devices for children who may have permanent communication issues. These devices can give children and adults a voice, and aid in getting back on track in school. While I plan to be a community counselor, and not work in schools directly, I think this information would be helpful to share with parents who are struggling with a child's communication issues and don't know where to turn.

This is a very helpful article. I cannot imagine struggling to communicate my basic wants or needs! It reminds me of when I was a child, and my older brother had his tonsils out. He had to write down everything he wanted or needed, but I could not yet read. I remember feeling very frustrated at trying to guess what he was saying to me. This article helps connect parents identify who to turn to with help. So many wonderful alternative devices exist for communication, it goes way beyond the basic velcro communication boards, which an SLP can assist with as well. With the evolution of the iPad and iPhones, I am curious to know how accessible apps and games have helped in this area. It is so important that teachers, counselors, parents, and SLPs work together to identify exactly what the struggles and patterns are, and make a plan to create an individualized plan for the child. Too many times when someone is struggling, a communication disorder does not even make it on the educator's radar! Thank you for sharing knowledge on this topic!

I have 2 adopted children and they both have speech and language issues. I held them back one year in school thinking that would help them catch up. Well, it didn't because they have a speech and language disorder. I finally took them to be tested myself and found out they both have a processing disorder called CAPD (central auditory processing disorder). This causes most of the problems you are having with your daughter. Mine still use language like that even though they are now much older. An audiologist can diagnose this issue and you will need an IEP for her to get her the help she will need at school for this. It is likely she will have comprehension problems, inferencing problems, communication problems, etc due to this. If she doesn't qualify for an IEP, get a 504 Plan based on her qualifying condition. Things don't necessarily get easier because school gets more difficult as they get older. If they qualify for the IEP, you will have a speech therapist and a resource specialist to help them in school for an alloted amount of time each week/month. Not enough time, but better than nothing. Just don't give up! These kids are smart and able to learn with the proper teaching methods. I know this to be true from experience.

The school counselor is a great resource for students with communication disorders. School counselors are there to be advocates for the students. They will collaborate and consult with teachers, parents, and community service providers to ensure the student’s needs are being meet (Vernon, 2009, p. 217). The school counselor is also knowledgeable about community resources. Therefore, if families need help finding a speech pathologist, the school counselor can help them find a professional in the community who will benefit the student. In addition, the counselor will not only help students with overcome the academic challenges associated with communication disorders, but they will also help students overcome social and emotional challenges like low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression (Vernon, 2009, p. 219).

The school counselor is a great resource for students with communication disorders. School counselors are there to be advocates for the students. They will collaborate and consult with teachers, parents, and community service providers to ensure the student’s needs are being meet (Vernon, 2009, p. 217). The school counselor is also knowledgeable about community resources. Therefore, if families need help finding a speech pathologist, the school counselor can help them find a professional in the community who will benefit the student. In addition, the counselor will not only help students with overcome the academic challenges associated with communication disorders, but they will also help students overcome social and emotional challenges like low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression (Vernon, 2009, p. 219).

Wow! I like this article. I am a kindergarten teacher, i teach kids with communication disorder. And if anyone could help, that would be great.

"How do speech-language pathologists work with teachers and other school personnel to *insure children get the support they need?"*Correction needed: The correct word is "ensure" not "insure".

Talk to your speech-language pathologist to provide suggestions & to model in your classroom. Perfect entry into the classroom with RtI.

I am a kindergarten teacher and if anyone knows how to help students ability to answer, formulate, and ask a question that would be great! Looking for different types of interventions!

Wow this is a great article. This definitely will help m with my homework!Lola, if you are still reading this thread waiting for an answer. I am not a professional or anything but I am currently an Education Major. Get your daughter tested and documented for having a speech disability and then have her reading re-tested. It may have been her speech that gave her the lower score. She has the right to free retesting at the request of the parent if you do not believe the test scores were accurate within the school or with someone not associated with the school on the school district's budget according to law. She also has the right, if she has a documented disability (including in speech) to get a modified test for her needs. You may want to think about getting your child a Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. From how this sounds you will probably need the 504 and the IEP would be too much. Yes, both are for special education but they may help her in-school. 504's aren't just for school but for all of life but they don't put the child in special education. With both your child can get free help with her disability until it is no longer needed. IEP's last until age 21, 504's last for life but you can always "cancel" them. It isn't publicized as much as in an IEP but in a 504 students can get extra help in school and tutors in speech. Hope this helped!!!

I have an eight year old daughter with a speech problem. She use to communicate with us in mostly hand gestures until the age of 5 or 6. That's when she started speech therapy, it help her improve a lot, but now that she just turned eight I can notice she has not really improved anymore it's like she is "stuck" at the same level. Example if she is upset with her brother this is what she might say "He, not stop looking at me, it make me mad a lot, I say stop and he no listen to me!" I don't like it when my family makes comments about her being mentally retarded or something. She is very smart and love to read a lot. I thought with all the reading she does her speech might improve, but just last week her second grade teacher said that she was reading a pre kinder level. That can't be possible because if that were true why did they promote her to kindergarten to first grade to now second grade? I mention to the teacher about her speech problem, but she says they never tested her speech only made her read a story and answer a few question regarding the book. I asked my daughter about the test and she said she felt like she didn't get enough time to answer the questions. I don't know what to do and am pretty upset. Not at my daughter, not even with the teacher, but with myself. I wish I knew how to help her I don't want people to take advantage of her because of this problem. Can anyone give me some advice please.

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