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Specific Language Impairment (SLI)


What is Specific Language Impairment (SLI)?

Some children have what is called a Specific Language Impairment (SLI). An SLI has no obvious related cause such as hearing loss, autism, or learning difficulties. The condition appears in young children and is known to persist into adulthood, with some studies stating that as many of 7% of children could be having difficulties because of an SLI. There is a higher likelihood of SLI if parents or siblings also have the diagnosis. Specific language impairment is not something children grow out of and difficulties can continue into adulthood if it is not treated.


Children who are late talkers and children with delayed expressive language may be showing signs of specific language impairment and some children may have co-occurring literacy difficulties. Some children with SLI will find it harder to learn new words, or have difficulty expressing themselves. Difficulties using verbs, using the incorrect tense, and incorrect grammatical structures are also common in children with SLI. Unfortunately, some children with no other difficulties are seen as lazy, because in all other areas of development they appear normal. Parents can help by taking their child to the speech and language pathologist / therapist. The therapist can then give parents strategies and programs to build the child’s language skills. Many of these strategies can be found on the Receptive Language Disorder and Expressive Language disorder pages (click on these links).


Typical errors that a 5-year-old child with SLI would make include dropping the “s” from the end of present-tense verbs, dropping past tense, and asking questions without the usual “be” or “do” verbs. For example, instead of saying “She rides the horse,” a child with SLI will say, “She ride the horse.” Instead of saying “He ate the cookie,” a child with SLI will say, “He eat the cookie.” Instead of saying “Why does he like me?”, a child with SLI will ask, “Why he like me?”


Some examples of language spoken by children with an SLI:

“They is coming” (using is instead of are)

“He ride the bike” (missing the “s” on ride)

“When will we coming home” (missing be)

“What he doing” (missing is)

“I eat it” (using eat instead of ate)

“My like that” (my instead of I)


Specific language impairment can be diagnosed with a language assessment carried out by a qualified speech and language therapist / pathologist. For more information and strategies go to our Resources, and Downloads sections.


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