This seems to be the ultimate question that I get asked when working with little ones and school-age kids! It is also one of the hardest questions to answer since it isn’t always clear. To help with the process, there are some key questions to consider.
Before we dive into the information, I want to clarify the difference between behavior difficulties and attention deficits and speech and language disorders.
There is a WIDE range of severity concerning attention difficulties/deficits. Problems with attention are developmental and symptoms include one or more of the following:
Some children with attention problems may need environmental modifications, compensatory strategies (such as movement breaks or preferential seating in class), and/or medication.
The term behavior disorders or behavior problems can mean MANY things. Basically (for the sake of time), this term can be used to include mental health disorders such as:
It can also include children who have:
This term can mean MANY things. If you want more in-depth information, please read the Speech and Language Disorders Page. A child who has a speech or language disorder has difficulty communicating.
For a quick overview, he/she may have trouble
Speech, behavior or attention?!
Well, again, this can be difficult to tease out for many reasons. It could also be that a child has all three! To examine this question, let’s discuss children by age!
Speech/Language VS Behavior
I’ll never say never, but from my clinical experience, most children under 3 years of age who have a speech or language disorder are not not talking because of behavior concerns. Language at this age is fun, new, and more importantly POWERFUL!
Some parents say my child is lazy, likes the attention, or is being manipulative. Personally, I have not found this to be common. This is from personal, clinical experience.
Attention VS Speech Delay
At times, attention may play a small role. A child may not be talking because he or she is too busy being busy!!
If this is the case, you may want to encourage speech and language development during some “heavy lifting” tasks. Literally….heavy lifting! Have your child move “heavy (relative to their strength)” blocks or buckets of water while trying some language elicitation techniques. You can build a fort or water plants and work on language at the same time! A busy child will exert their excess energy during the “heavy lifting” task and then will be able to attend to speech and language goals.
You can also work on speech and language development during meals. At mealtime, a child has to sit and attend for a few minutes at least! Refer to this our page for ideas to try.
For more first word ideas, don’t forget to check out Toddler Talk!
At this age, things get a bit trickier to decipher whether a child is having behavioral issues, attention deficits, and/or a speech delay. It is possible to have more than one, but sometimes, one can look like the other.
As a parent or professional, you need to consider
At this age, standardized assessment can come in handy. Standardized assessments are normed based on age and look at speech and language skills in isolation.
Okay...let’s say the child does well on the standardized testing, yeah! This means, most likely, their breakdowns in communication at home or school may be due to behavioral or attention deficits….NOT speech or language deficits.
You need to know….does a child know their stuff?
For example, when you take away environmental distractions, can a child:
Just keep in mind that standardized testing does have some cultural bias and is taken out of context. It’s not perfect.
To decide if attention or behavior needs to be addressed as well as speech/language delay, it is important to observe the child in his/her natural environment and see if/how these compounding factors could be affecting speech and language development.
If you are concerned about your child’s language development and want activities to try today, Preschool Talk might be right for you!
Deciphering if a child has a speech-language disorder or attention deficits or negative behaviors will look similar to the preschool age section.
First, I recommend gathering data in a small room without distractions and/or complete standardized testing if possible. This will give you an idea if a student has the language skills or not.
Normal Test Results, Reliable Evaluation
If the child tests in the average range and the results are reliable, (child attended during the evaluation and there were no negative behaviors that would have affected the results), then the child does not have a speech/language delay.
Below Average Test Results, Reliable Evaluation
If the child does not test in the average range on standardized testing and the results are reliable, (child attended during the evaluation and there were no negative behaviors that would have affected the results), this DOES NOT necessarily mean the child has a speech-language disorder.
Yep, you read that right.
Below Average Test Results, Unreliable Evaluation
If a child does not test in the average range but the results were unreliable, (child had poor attention or refused to participate), this DOES NOT necessarily mean the child has a speech-language disorder!!