A language disorder can negatively impact a child’s academic success. For example, consider a child who has a difficult time comprehending multi-step or complex directions. They are likely to misinterpret their teachers’ instructions or misunderstand task directions. Parents often share the challenges they face when helping their child battle through homework assignments. Their child may frequently seem frustrated, lost or anxious about homework. This blog will highlight several ways in which a language disorder may negatively impact a child’s success with homework as well as strategies parents can use to help.
How might a language disorder impact homework success?
Your child might have difficulty:
- Interpreting the directions, especially if they include multiple steps, unfamiliar linguistic terms or complex sentence structures.
- Understanding linguistic concepts embedded throughout tasks. For example, math word problems are loaded with linguistic concepts such as “and, more, greater, less, with”, which impact the meaning of each problem.
- Comprehending stories or written passages, including pertinent details, the main idea or the sequence of events.
- Correctly answering various questions, including who, what, where, when, why and how. For example, some children may not yet know how to answer a “why” question and mistakenly answer as though it were a “what” question (e.g., “Why is the boy opening a present?” –“It’s a present!”).
- Organizing their thoughts and ideas into a concise, sequential and grammatical response when asked open-ended questions.
- Recalling vocabulary during naming tasks or open-ended responses.
- Using correct syntax and morphology during responses. For example, many children with expressive language disorders have difficulty using correct verb tenses, plurals, pronouns and word order. Rather than say, “She is walking her dog”, a child may say “She walking his dog.”
- Learning new vocabulary words or concepts. Children with language disorders often have difficulty comprehending new vocabulary, including the definition, class (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) and relationship to other words (e.g. “coffee” and “soda” are similar because they are both beverages, but they are different because coffee is hot and soda is cold).
How can parents support their children during homework tasks?
- Occasionally ask “check-in questions” during reading or listening comprehension activities to make sure your child comprehends the information.
- Keep a running list of new or challenging vocabulary words that come up during homework tasks. Try to review these words later to help your child better comprehend their meaning. You may make vocabulary flashcards, have your child define each term in their own words, draw a picture of the words, act words out or incorporate the words into a fun game.
- Rephrase or simplify challenging sentences. For example, if the homework instructions say “Describe the author’s intention in writing this story”, you can simplify it by asking “What is this story about?” or “Why did they author write this book?”.
- Use a slower rate of speech when giving instructions to allow your child extra processing time.
- Repeat instructions as necessary.
- Encourage your child to ask for help or request clarification when they are lost.
- Use graphic organizers to help your child organize their thoughts and ideas. For example, if your child is writing an extended response, you can use a “story star” to brainstorm ideas, including writing the main idea in the center and all supporting details in each point.
- Use a multiple choice format. This may not be possible for all assignments as it’s important for your child to eventually answer open-ended questions; however, using multiple choices may be a necessary accommodation in the meantime. If your child is still struggling, limit the number of choices to 2 and, over time, work towards 3 choices, then 4 and so on.
- Encourage your child to self-monitor their work. Did they understand the instructions? Did they answer all the questions? Did they check their work?
Most importantly, ask your child’s speech-language pathologist for specific ways your child’s language disorder may negatively impact their academic skills. In order to intervene appropriately, it is crucial to know your child’s specific weaknesses. Your child’s therapist will be able to offer strategies tailored to meet your child’s specific needs. In addition, ask your child’s teacher for specific feedback about your child’s classroom performance. Provide them with specific information about your child’s speech and language weaknesses, how they may impact your child’s classroom success and strategies that may be helpful. In some cases, accommodations may be warranted (e.g., preferential seating, modified tests, increased testing time, etc.). Finally, if you suspect that your child has an undiagnosed speech and language disorder, seek evaluation from a licensed speech-language pathologist right away.