Warning signs your kid might have a communication disorder

The month of May is designated as Better Speech and Hearing Month. May has been set aside to educate the public, as approximately 40 million Americans have trouble speaking or hearing due to a communication disorder. Early identification of communication and hearing problems can improve academic, social, and career experiences, and ultimately improve the quality of life for individuals of all ages.

Unfortunately, many Americans either do not recognize or quickly dismiss the warning signs of a communication disorder. A recent poll of speech-language pathologists and audiologists who are members of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association reported significant parental delays in getting help for children with communication disorders. This report illustrates just one example of the many missed opportunities to help children and adults with communication disorders and demonstrates the importance of understanding the following symptoms as possible signs of a problem:

Speech-Language Symptoms in Children

  • Does not interact socially (infancy and older)
  • Does not follow or understand what you say (starting at 1 year)
  • Says only a few sounds, words, or gestures (18 months to 2 years)
  • Words are not easily understood (18 months to 2 years)
  • Does not combine words (starting at 2 years)
  • Struggles to say sounds or words (3 to 4 years)

Speech-Language Symptoms in Adults

  • Struggles to say sounds or words (stuttering)
  • Repetition of words or parts of words (stuttering)
  • Speaks in short, fragmented phrases (expressive aphasia)
  • Says words in the wrong order (expressive aphasia)
  • Struggles with using words and understanding others (global aphasia)
  • Difficulty imitating speech sounds (apraxia)
  • Inconsistent errors (apraxia)
  • Slow rate of speech (apraxia)
  • Slurred speech (dysarthria)
  • Slow or rapid rate of speech, often with a mumbling quality (dysarthria)

Hearing Symptoms in Children

  • Lack of attention to sounds
  • Does not follow simple directions
  • Does not respond when their name is called
  • Delays in speech and language development
  • Pulls or scratches at their ears
  • Difficulty achieving academically, especially in reading and math
  • Socially isolated and unhappy in school
  • Persistent ear discomfort after exposure to loud noise (regular and constant listening to electronics at high volumes)

Hearing Symptoms in Adults

  • Inattentiveness
  • Buzzing or ringing in their ears
  • Failure to respond to spoken words
  • Persistent ear discomfort after exposure to loud noise (regular and constant listening to electronics at high volumes)
  • Muffled hearing
  • Constant frustration hearing speech and other sounds
  • Avoids conversation
  • Social isolation
  • Depression

If you recognize symptoms in your child or loved one, there are many places in New Orleans that can help. The LSU Medical Center Department of Communication Disorders has a number of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists that can screen and assess individuals of all ages. They can be reached at 504-568-4348. New Orleans Speech and Hearing Center is another tremendous resource. Their number is 504-897-2606.

This blog post represents just one of the hundreds of TV, radio, print, and digital public service announcements intended to educate the public about warning signs and connect parents and caregivers with professional help. I encourage you to share the information that you learn by reading this post and go to the ASHA website (www.asha.org ) to find out more about communication disorders.

Facts and resources for Autism Awareness Month

Did you know that April is Autism Awareness Month? Most of us have met an individual with Autism, and there is plenty we can do to help increase awareness. Here are some facts about Autism:

Fact 1

Autism is a spectrum disorder. This means that there is variation in the way it affects people. Those on the autism spectrum have unique abilities, presentation in symptoms, and challenges.

Fact 2

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Fact 3

Boys are four to five times higher risk than girls.

Fact 4

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by:

  • Persistent deficits in social communication;
  • Persistent deficits in social interaction;
  • Restricted and/or repetitive patterns of behavior;
  • Symptoms are present in the early developmental period;

The Autism Society has been celebrating National Autism Awareness Month since the 1970s to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community.

Here are some great opportunities for us to participate:

  1. Connect in your neighborhood by contacting your local Autism Society. The New Orleans local branch is the Autism Society of Greater New Orleans (www.asgno.org). They sponsor many events and provide informational sessions about Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  2. Encourage your kids to participate in activities that involve children with ASD, such as Miracle League.
  3. Contact your representatives at the state and federal levels and ask them to “Vote 4 Autism.”
  4. Make a donation to the Autism Society to support education, awareness, advocacy, research, and assistance for families living with autism. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.


My child doesn’t qualify for special education services. Now what?

Having a struggling student is probably one of the hardest challenges a parent faces. I can remember asking myself two questions: “Why?” and “What next?”

After my husband and I had our daughter evaluated and learned she had dyslexia, I asked the “Why?” We learned that dyslexia was hereditary. In looking back at my family tree, I could see the thread.

Now we were challenged with the “What next?” question. We had our child in a school that she loved. We didn’t know whether to leave her in her current placement or move her. We knew the school would not provide intervention because she did not meet eligibility criteria for services. Here is information that helped us with our decision.

An evaluation isolates a student’s learning needs and determines the responsibility of an educational system to those needs. Each state has established criteria for a variety of exceptionalities, but not all students meet the state criteria and consequently are not eligible for specific intervention services according to state guidelines.

This doesn’t mean that your child doesn’t have a problem. It means that the state is not responsible for paying for those services.

Students who do not meet eligibility criteria for a particular exceptionality are entitled to accommodations within their classrooms to support their learning needs. These accommodations are guaranteed under Section 504 of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The purpose of accommodations are to “level the playing field” for struggling students. They are tools, procedures, or methods that provide equal access to instruction and assessment. Accommodations do not change, lower or reduce learning expectations.

There are four different types of accommodations:

  1. Presentation Accommodations allow students to access information in ways that do not require them to visually read the standard print. Students who have difficulty or the inability to visually read standard print because of physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities will benefit from these accommodations.

  2. Response Accommodations allow students to complete activities in different ways or to solve or organize problems using assistive technologies or organizers. Students with physical, sensory or learning disabilities such as memory deficits, deficits in sequencing, difficulty with directionality, alignment issues, and organizational issues will benefit from response accommodations.
  3. Timing and Scheduling Accommodations change the condition or location of an assignment or assessment. Students who need extended time to complete assignments and assessments and students who cannot concentrate for an extended period of time are often afforded timing and scheduling accommodations. Additionally, students with health related issues, students who tire easily, and students with special dietary and/or medication needs are often granted similar accommodations.
  4. Setting Accommodations increase the allowable time to complete assignments or assessments, or change the way the time is organized. Students who are easily distracted in an educational environment, who benefit from the use of a scribe, reader, or assistive technology or students with physical disabilities who might need a more accessible location will benefit from appropriate setting accommodations.

Accommodations were the answer to our prayers. Knowing that we were responsible for our daughter’s intervention, we put that in place immediately and met with her school about accommodations. She was given extended time for tests and reading assignments. There was no penalty for spelling errors in her writing, she was given class notes as she got older and she was never called on to read in class unless she volunteered.  Her teachers were great about reading words on tests that she was unfamiliar with, and if she performed poorly on a test, they often did an oral check to determine whether her reading interfered with her ability to pass the test. Having a laptop in high school diminished the effects of her writing issues, as she used speech-to-text software and notes and assignments were always available from both her friends and faculty.

Hurray for accommodations! They enabled us to keep our daughter in an environment that fulfilled her. They can be significant to learning outcomes.




does my child have a learning disability?

As parents, we are all concerned about our children’s learning. I thought my children were off to a good start. Then the first grade report card arrived for my middle child, and I realized she had mastered 30% of what had been taught. As a professional who works with children with learning differences, I shamed myself for months for not paying attention to the warning signs.

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “A learning disability is a neurological condition that interferes with a person’s ability to store, process, or produce information.” Learning disabilities can affect a child’s ability to read, write, speak, spell, compute math, and reason and may also affect a child’s attention, memory, coordination, social skills and emotional maturity.

Learning Disabilities do not include autism, mental retardation, hearing impairment, blindness or behavioral disorders.

While there is no one single “marker” for a learning disability, there are “signs” that would indicate the possibility of a learning disability. These “signs” can appear anywhere along the developmental continuum (preschool-high school).

Below is a list of symptoms that may indicate a learning disability:


  • Develops language later than most children
  • Pronounces words incorrectly (speech problems)
  • Difficulty finding the right word when speaking
  • Difficulty rhyming words
  • Difficulty learning numbers, letters, days of the week, colors, shapes
  • Restless or easily distracted
  • Difficulty interacting with peers
  • Difficulty following directions or routines
  • Slow to develop pencil/paper skills

Grades K-4

  • Difficulty learning the connection between sounds and letters
  • Confuses basic words when reading (want/went, was/saw)
  • Makes consistent reading errors
  • Reads slowly (word by word)
  • Reverses letters in writing after age 7 (b/d)
  • Transposes number sequences
  • Confuses arithmetic signs (+, -, x, /, =)
  • Slow to remember facts
  • Impulsive, difficulty planning
  • Unstable pencil grip
  • Difficulty learning about time
  • Poor coordination, prone to accidents

Grades 5-8

  • Difficulty with letter sequences in words (felt/left)
  • Slow to learn prefixes, suffixes, root words, and other spelling strategies
  • Avoids reading aloud
  • Labored or slow reading
  • Difficulty with word problems
  • Difficulty with handwriting
  • Awkward, fist-like, or tight pencil grip
  • Avoids writing assignments
  • Slow or poor recall of facts
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Trouble understanding body language and facial expressions

High School Students and Adults

  • Continues to spell incorrectly
  • Avoids and/or dislikes reading and writing
  • Difficulty summarizing
  • Difficulty with essay questions on tests
  • Difficulty memorizing
  • Difficulty adjusting to new situations
  • Works slowly
  • Difficulty understanding abstract concepts
  • Misreads information

Educational Testing is the best way to determine whether or not a learning disability is present. School districts offer this service at the request of the parent. Psychologists, Speech-Language Pathologists, and Educational specialists are also instrumental in a diagnosis. The good news is, there is help if a problem is suspected. The sooner a diagnosis is made the better the long term outcomes. A recent study conducted by the National Institutes of Health showed that 67 percent of young students who were at risk for reading difficulties became average or above average readers after receiving help in the early grades.

Putting my shame aside, I had my child tested, and learned that she had Developmental Dyslexia. Immediate progress was noted with the initiation of intervention. Incidentally, she recently graduated from college with honors, and has applied to graduate school. Early diagnosis and treatment can remediate the problem.


Skip to toolbar