How to Improve a Child's Language Processing Skills

Mother and daughters (4-5,8-9) using tablet pc, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA

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Some students struggle to fully understand written words, speech, or both. This extra burden occasionally translates into behavior problems: As students experience the challenge of processing language less effectively as their peers do, they sometimes become inattentive or even disruptive in the classroom.

These students can thrive, however, with the right mix of support from parents and education professionals. Use several different approaches simultaneously to help accommodate the needs of students with language processing problems, receptive language disabilities, dyslexia, and listening comprehension weaknesses.

Clarify the Language

Present written material in brief and direct terms, omitting non-essential details and double negatives.  Use common words instead of rarer words with more syllables. 

You may find success in partnering with teachers or tutors to present lessons in plainer language—but if you can't get what you need from the school, consider reviewing assignments in advance to offer simplifications on your child's behalf.

Reduce Unnecessary Distractions

Students living with language-processing challenges often perform better when their style of learning encourages direct engagement with the learning materials without being sidetracked by unnecessary content.

For example, tests with "gotcha" multiple-choice questions present much more substantial challenges for these kids than open-ended questions that allow them to express what they know in terms they understand.

Work with your child's teachers to encourage testing procedures that minimize the distractions that related-but-unlike test options and vocabulary present.

Encourage Peer Support

Some kids learn better when they learn as a group. Encourage your child to study with friends, or to play games with friends that gently reinforce language skills. Word games at home offer a less formal and less stressful learning environment than a classroom does.

If your child struggles socially, you may wish to talk frankly with the parents of his friends about your child's needs. Children with language-processing challenges don't wear warning signs, so other parents may misinterpret your child's behavior.

A friendly parent-to-parent chat early in a child's friendship could make a huge difference in your child's long-term self-confidence.

Offer Ample Time and Space

Allow extra time for your child to listen to, think about and form his own thoughts about the written and spoken materials used in class. Don't force immediate comprehension—sometimes kids need a little extra time to process.

An environment most conducive to your child's learning style matters, too: Some kids prefer quiet solitude while others do better with lots of background noise to stimulate the senses.

Ask teachers to record lectures for playback at home during study and homework sessions. Re-experiencing the material may reinforce the original lesson.

Use Mixed Media

Use visual models and hands-on projects to help your child gain an understanding of material using her visual and physical learning skills. Allow her to use multisensory materials and strategies. Where words fail, art and music can succeed.

Work with teachers and tutors so that your child could use visual models and projects as alternatives to written assignments or spoken presentations when possible. Make liberal use of visual models, pictures, videos, computer-generated models, or any other non-verbal media to prime her visual-reasoning skills to understand assignments in novel ways.

Encourage Active Reading Skills

Identify the most important parts of text and instructions. Use a highlighter and restate the instructions in simple, concise terms—then help your child summarize what he has read and ask him to write it in his own words.

Create a study guide that includes key vocabulary with definitions, guiding questions and a clear statement of learning goals for the reading or task. Help your child relate the questions and goals in that study guide to the assignment itself. Prompt him to think critically about how the instructions and the assignment relate to one another.

Focus on Small Wins

Break larger assignments into smaller sections and allow your child to take a break or earn a small reward when each section is completed diligently. Not only will this chunking help relieve the stress of a big project, but you can check progress early on to see that she's on track. It's less painful to redo a small part of an assignment than to see a larger project end up off-base!

Provide examples of good work, and point out features of the work that contributes to its quality. Check to ensure that your child understands what characteristics distinguish good work from poor work—and that she can explain why the two are different.

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By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.