According to research, narrative development can play a significant role in determining a child’s later success in school and literacy. This is because the narration and relaying of a previous experience allows the child to communicate and use language that is beyond the present context or the “here and now.” This determines the child’s grasp of linguistic structure and the words chosen. But what exactly is narrative development? And how do you know your child’s progress is appropriate for his or her age?
A child’s narrative skills refer to his or her ability to use language in telling or communicating a story. As children develop their narrative skills, they learn to follow the rules of story-telling. This involves sequencing of events, organization, introducing characters, establishing the plot or main idea, and taking perspectives.
Narrative skills are first developed and introduced in very young children through storytelling or bedtime story sessions with their parents.
By listening to stories and being exposed to story-telling, children begin to understand and develop narrative structure. In most cases, children with speech and language problems or conditions struggle with comprehending and executing narratives. At Staten Island Letters, we work with children who have narrative language difficulties and speech and language delays.
Unlike speech sound disorders, which involve difficulties in producing spoken sounds, language disorders refer to problems using spoken language compared to peers. These expressive problems manifest in at least one of these areas: spoken vocabulary, complexity of what the child is saying (grammar), and social use of words (pragmatics). These issues become more apparent when children, older than 4 years of age, have difficulties telling stories and making friends.
Language Disorders are classified as two types:
Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder – Difficulty with comprehension or understanding the words or complexity of what the individual understands compared to peers and has an expressive language disorder.
Expressive Language Disorder – Receptively, the individual is age appropriate but there are significant issues expressing oneself compared to peers.
There is no such thing as just a receptive language disorder. If a child is misdiagnosed with this label, either the child has significant attentional difficulties, or the child’s expressive language skills were not thoroughly assessed. Speech-language pathologists are the best professionals to thoroughly assess expressive language skills.
Spoken or expressive language disorder is a lifelong condition and appears in early childhood. It is often developmental in nature but may also be caused by traumatic brain injury. An individual with expressive language disorder exhibits normal comprehension skills but has difficulty with written and/or verbal expression. This can impair academic achievement and make it more difficult to socialize in groups with peers.
In many cases, signs of an expressive language disorder may be invisible to parents and teachers. Some signs and behaviors may not directly imply a language problem. According to research, one of the early signs of a language disorder in children is late talking. The Hanen Centre defines a late talker as a child between 18 and 30 months with a good understanding of language and typical development in other areas (hearing, vision, motor, and cognitive skills) but has a limited spoken vocabulary compared to peers for their age. However, late talking becomes a more serious concern for children who also exhibit other risk factors, such as:
Other signs of Expressive Language Disorder also include:
Signs of a child who needs expressive language therapy:
As with all speech or language disorders, it is always important to first ensure that there are no hearing issues affecting language development. A hearing assessment by an audiologist is necessary to rule out any issues with hearing (ears). Even undetected ear infections can interfere with acquiring language in younger children.
To get your child diagnosed with an expressive language disorder, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) must do a thorough evaluation. A comprehensive assessment must be conducted with the help of the child’s family and teachers. This evaluation process includes both informal and formal assessments. Formal evaluation comes in the form of standardized tests, while informal evaluation involves interviews, observations, checklists, and language samples.
While both types are essential in providing accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment goals, it is the language sample that provides a clearer picture of the child’s language abilities and conversational skills. Through language sampling, an SLP is able to gain a better understanding of the child’s strengths and weaknesses with regards to key language areas. These areas include syntax or grammar, semantics or word meanings, morphology (suffixes and prefixes), and pragmatics or social skills. Our SLPs at Staten Island Letters conduct language sampling in order to accurately diagnose and assess the needs of your child using the Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts or SALT program. The typical expressive language development in young children, aged 12 months to 47 months onwards, is outlined in the Acquisition of Sentence Forms Within Brown’s Stages of Development. This framework is an invaluable tool used by SLPs in conducting a structural analysis of a language sample.
(Related: Find out more about language sampling in this article on the Structural Analysis of a Language Sample.)
During this phase, speech language pathologists will need to know the child’s:
Once a diagnosis is made, the SLP will conduct further analysis and observations before creating an individualized program. However, it is important to remember that therapy will not offer a permanent “cure” for the disorder. Instead, SLPs can equip children with strategies and techniques to help them manage their condition.
Therapy methods can vary, depending on the therapist and the child’s needs. Modelling target behaviour is one technique where the therapist models and reinforces aspects of speech that need to be targeted, such as sounds, vocabulary, and grammatical structure.
Some areas that SLPs address are:
For preschoolers (ages 3 to 5):