I recently received a phone call from the parents of a prospective client who expressed concerns about their daughter’s language skills and a noticeable decline in her performance in mathematics. This is not the first parent who has called me and I suspect it won’t be the last.
Ironically, I found my way into the field of speech-language pathology after obtaining my Bachelor’s in math and tutoring in mathematics for ten years. As a tutor, I consistently helped students struggling in math, but I faced challenges in assisting those who not only struggled in math but also had difficulties in one or multiple aspects of language. Upon completing my Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology, the connection between math and language became evident to me.
This article dives deep into language learning disabilities as it relates to math.
What is a language learning disability
A learning disability is diagnosed when unexpected difficulties in learning do not align with an individual’s developmental learning abilities. A language learning disability (sometimes referred to as LLD) is a specific type of learning disability where individuals may encounter difficulties expressing ideas, comprehending concepts, and using language for reasoning and problem-solving. There are three types of language-learning disabilities:
Receptive Language Learning Disabilities: Individuals with this type of disability experience challenges in comprehending language, adversely impacting their ability to understand it.
Expressive Language Learning Disabilities: Individuals with this type of disability face challenges in effectively communicating their thoughts, adversely impacting their ability to express ideas.
Mixed Expressive-Receptive Language Disabilities: Individuals with this type of disability experience challenges in both receptive and expressive language areas.
I would like to focus more on students who struggle in math due to a related language learning disability. What I observed while tutoring math was that these particular students often understood how to compute two or more numbers and grasped the mechanics of completing an equation. However, when language entered the equation, their performance suffered. These students excelled in the early years of math because, during that time, math primarily involved computation (e.g., 3 + 7 or x + 3 = 7). As math advanced, it became more about understanding word problems (requiring receptive language skills) in order to solve them. This specific group of students performed poorly in math due to their language disability.
The similarities between math and language
Math and language share similarities.
Both use symbols to represent concepts. In math, symbols and notations represent numbers, variables, operations, and relationships. Similarly, language uses symbols (letters) to represent sounds and convey meaning.
Both math and language follow specific rules. In math, there are rules for constructing equations (e.g., 3 + 1 = 4, but 31+ = 4 is incorrect), while in language, grammar and syntax govern sentence structure.
Math and language consist of both nouns and verbs. Math includes many nouns (primarily numbers and variables) with finite verbs (+, -, =, /, etc.).
Both math and language play crucial roles in problem-solving. When tackling word problems, understanding the language is essential to solving the problem mathematically.
The challenges with assessing math ability using language
Children with receptive, expressive, or mixed language disorders are not necessarily deficient in math; their difficulties with math are sometimes secondary to their challenges in language. Consider a child who struggles with reading comprehension. Would performing poorly on a math test consisting of word problems truly assess their mathematical skills, or would it more likely reflect their reading ability? Most probably, their poor results on the exam are secondary to their language learning disability rather than indicating a lack of math skills.
Expert tips to teaching and assessing math for students with language learning disabilities
How do we teach and assess a child with a receptive, expressive, or mixed language disorder?
Understand the student’s individual needs. Identify the specific language challenges this student faces, including comprehension, expression, vocabulary, or syntax, which may be a combination of challenges.
Identify whether the student’s current mathematical skills are appropriate given their age and pinpoint any math-related challenges.
Build a Foundation:
Ensure a thorough understanding of basic math concepts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
Develop strong math-related vocabulary, reinforcing commonly used terms in word problems (e.g., sum, difference, etc.).
For some students, understanding word problems is easier when visualizing them. Demonstrate how to visually represent problems, which may involve drawing pictures and using objects to represent information in the word problem.
Break down the word problem into smaller pieces. Tackling a paragraph-long word problem can be overwhelming; breaking it down can make it more manageable.
Emphasize the importance of understanding the word problem before attempting to solve it.
Allow the student to verbally express the meaning of the word problem to ensure understanding.
Highlighting or underlining important keywords can help students identify what needs to be done to solve a problem.
Assist students in creating sentences to express mathematical thoughts.
Collaborate with a speech-language pathologist and/or parent to develop a holistic support system for the student.
Visual Aids and/or Manipulatives:
Utilize visual aids such as charts or images to represent mathematical concepts. Visuals often provide a concrete representation of more abstract ideas.
Incorporate manipulatives like counting blocks and number tiles to make math more tangible.
Repetition is essential for all students, playing a critical role for children with language disorders to improve retention.
The impact of speech therapy on language learning disabilities
Speech therapy plays an important role in addressing and mitigating the impact of both receptive, expressive, and mixed language learning disabilities. Speech therapists work closely with these individuals to improve their ability to comprehend and/or express language.
Enhanced expressive language: through various exercises and techniques, individuals can develop a more robust vocabulary and articulate their thoughts more clearly. This will also help them gain confidence not only in a school or at work, but also socially and at home.
Enhanced receptive language: through targeted strategies, individuals will improve understanding of spoken and written language. Activities individuals may engage in during a speech therapy session may include deciphering verbal instructions, comprehending written text (including math word problems), and understanding complex linguistic concepts.
Improving overall language development: given the comprehensive nature of speech therapy, improvements in language can include a broader set of language skills including grammar, syntax, and semantics. This can of course positively impact academic or employment performance and social communication.
Speak with Stephanie: Your partner in overcoming language learning disabilities
Language Learning Disabilities (LLD) present challenges for children and adults in the classroom and workplace. This is where Speak with Stephanie comes in.
Individualized speech therapy interventions:
We do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we conduct a comprehensive evaluation to understand the specific areas of challenge that each individual faces.
Engaging learning, successful outcomes:
Speech therapy is fun and interactive, thus making learning more memorable. We may incorporate games and creative activities to target language disabilities. Of course, we take into account the client's age.
Empowering parents and educators:
We don't only work with the child, but also guide their parents, educators, and other family members to ensure proper carryover into the home and classroom environment. This is crucial to maximize progress in all settings.
Collaboration with other professionals:
Speak with Stephanie understands the importance of collaboration. We work with other professionals involved with the child, such as doctors, teachers, psychologists, and other related-service providers. This ensures
Collaborative Efforts for Continuous Improvement:
Speak with Stephanie recognizes the importance of collaboration. Our speech pathologists work with other professionals involved in a child's care, such as doctors, teachers, and psychologists. This guarantees that everyone involved is kept abreast of the child's progress and strategies to ensure continued progress.
Whether you're a parent seeking support for your child's diagnosis or an educator looking for resources, Speak with Stephanie can be your invaluable partner in overcoming Language-Learning Disabilities. Don't hesitate to reach out to us and unlock the potential for success within your child. Together, you can overcome LLD's and achieve amazing communication milestones!
I provide speech therapy services for those with language-learning disabilities in-person in Skokie, Evanston, Wilmette, Niles, and surrounding Illinois areas. I provide teletherapy for those who stutter throughout Illinois, New York, and New Jersey.
In conclusion, understanding and supporting children with receptive and expressive language disorders in the context of mathematics require a multifaceted approach. By comprehending what a language learning disability is, understanding its impact on students, and grasping strategies to address these challenges, educators can assist students in performing well in math. With the help of a speech-language pathologist, this disorder can be overcome.
About the author:
Stephanie Jeret is a Speech-Language Pathologist and the owner of Speak with Stephanie LLC. She obtained her Bachelor's and Master's degree from the City University of New York. She has practiced speech therapy in a number of settings including outpatient rehabilitation, telepractice, skilled nursing facilities, schools, and a private practice. She specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of communication disorders including articulation disorders, receptive/expressive language disorders, and fluency disorders. Information is available by emailing her at email@example.com or by visiting www.speakwithstephanie.com.