As you get to know the children in your class this term, it's a good time to think about whether they may have difficulties with language comprehension. This list will be appropriate, whether you are working with children in Early Years, right through to secondary.

Poor expressive language

Too often, we focus on the parts of communication we can see - the spoken language. But it is very common for children with poor spoken/expressive language skills to have underlying difficulties in other skill areas, including comprehension. We should always think about comprehension dififculties when we see delays in expressive skills.

There are some different types of expressive language signs you might see:

- Not talking at all

-Not combining many words

-Using generic vocabulary e.g. 'that', 'there'

- Using reduced or absent grammatical structures, e.g. missing out small words like 'a', 'the' and 'is'

-Children who have favourite topics

If you have a child who is an ace at bringing conversation round to their favourite conversational topics, it can be tempting to think the issue might be one of obsessive interests or poor social skills. But often these children have found ways to get onto conversational ground that they can cope with and where they feel secure.

- Children who tend to repeat the last thing you said when asked a question, espcially a 'yes/no' question or a forced alternative e.g. 'do you want juice or milk?'

All of these may suggest comprehension difficulties, which may impact at different levels of speech and language development.

Behavioural difficulties

- Children with poor attention skill

It can be hard to maintain attention if we do not understand what we are being told. Poor attentional skills can be the cause of Speech and Language difficulties, but they can also be the end result of trying to function in an environment where the language is too difficult for you.

- Children who are inconsistent in following directions

Many children use cues from their environment to understand what is required. This can give the impression that they are understanding the words, and so it can be tempting to think that they are being defiant if they do not follow similar directions on other occasions. But inconsistent following of instructions can be a sign that underlying language comprehension is an area of difficulty for them.

- The child who is always last to follow a direction

These children will often be waiting for others to act so they can copy them, rather than genuinely understanding what they have been told.

-Disruptive behaviours in general may be a sign of comprehension difficulties. Children can develop the strategy of making out that they are being purposefully disruptive to mask comprehension difficulties.

-Children whose progress is not what you would expect, and they don't make any trouble

Some children will quietly sit and miss out on what is going on in class, and you will never know. These children are especially easy to miss in a busy class.

- Difficulty making friends, especially when this emerges as play moves from more physical games to more language-based games such as pretend play, or when children get older and friendships depend more on talking. Equally, children with restricted play interests may stick to certain types of play that they know they can manage. This is especially true of physical games such as tag and football.

- Poor organisational skils

This may not be apparent in younger children, but can be an issue as a child gets older and moves towards secondary school. Difficulty organising yourself can result from just not understanding the demands of a task. Without good language skills, it is also difficult to organise the steps you need to achieve goals such as homework.


Understanding and using the written word is related to our ability to do the same things in our verbal skills.

Some difficulties you might see are:

- Difficulty acquiring the skills of phonics

Discriminating sounds by themselves or in words, and manipulating sounds through blending, are all key skills for Speech, Langauge and literacy. Difficulties with these skills may be impacting on a range of communication skills.

- Difficulty responding to whole texts - so answering questions about texts, grasping the main point of a text, drawing inferences from a text may all relate to comprehenison difficulties

- Poor sentence construction, difficulty expressing ideas in writing or switching between different styles of writing

Where there are difficulties with reading and writing, we should always be asking if a child has difficulties in the corresponding language skills.


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