Early Identification of Language Disorders and Language-Based Learning Disabilities

It is imperative that children with language disorders and language-based learning disabilities are identified at an early age. Speech/language pathologists are skilled at identifying receptive and expressive language disorders across the lifespan. Children can start receiving speech/language therapy as a toddler if their comprehension and oral language skills are not age-appropriate. Services can continue through the preschool and school aged years as needed to build essential communication, language, and literacy skills. Speech/language pathologists participate in special education eligibility meetings in the public school setting with school psychologists, special education teachers, and general education teachers and assist in the identification of children with learning disabilities. Language-based learning disabilities negatively impact a child’s understanding and use of spoken and written language. Dyslexia is a neurologically based disorder and a type of language-based learning disability, but the specific language and literacy difficulties are not due to cognitive or intellectual impairment.  Early identification is necessary to mitigate consequences that may result from a lack of screening, diagnosis, and effective intervention for language disorders and language-based learning disabilities.

Children with language impairment have a history of speech/language delay, speech sound disorder, oral language difficulties, and/or language processing challenges that persist during school years. Speech/language pathologists and educators can play an important role in recognizing the signs of dyslexia specifically.

Recently, legislation has changed in the U.S., and the public school system is now required to provide universal screening for dyslexia and related language and literacy intervention in the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).It should be noted that there was always a system in place to identify children with language and reading disorders via the previous Response to Intervention (RTI) process. However, the new legislation calls for an immediate overhaul and strategic focus on enhanced evidence-based dyslexia screening and intervention. In Georgia, the Department of Education has a three-year Dyslexia Pilot Program (2020-2023) in pilot districts throughout the state. In 2024-2025, there will be an official statewide dyslexia screening mandate.

Many important factors contribute to dyslexia including heredity and phonological processing deficit. Learning disabilities including dyslexia often run in families and are a lifelong learning difference.  Research confirms that children with inadequate phonological awareness, phonological memory, phonological retrieval, and phonological production may occur in approximately 50 % of children with dyslexia (Pennington et al. 2012). Another study confirmed 48 % of children with phonological awareness deficits also had dyslexia and then 73% if the participants also had language and rapid automized naming deficits (Catts et al. 2017). Other factors may operate with dyslexia as well such as language impairments, attentional deficits, executive functioning difficulties, visual problems, and trauma/stress.

To mitigate dyslexia in the family and school environments, it is wise to build a growth mindset, task-focused behavior, adaptive coping strategies, as well as family, teacher and peer support. In the school setting, children and adolescents with language based learning disabilities are taught learning strategies, receive classroom accomodations and supports so that their brain can effectively process and retain curriculum content.

Sometimes, reading becomes an aversive activity for a young child with dyslexia. In addition, with a negative mindset, children may believe that they are not smart enough to read which diminishes the child from practicing reading. It is important for any child to feel confident in themselves while recognizing their strengths and areas of need. Children, adolescents, speech language pathologists, educators, and parents can find ways to increase opportunities for successful experiences at school, home, and in the community. It is equally important for children and adolescents to learn from challenging situations so they can learn perseverance. Coping strategies may include having higher self-confidence which stems from one’s environment, self-determination, positive aspirations, and hope that one can succeed academically and with everyday life skills.

As speech language pathologists, it is our responsibility to support children by understanding their thoughts regarding their struggles in language and reading, while assessing their critical needs across all literacy domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. It is important for families to seek out literacy professionals who have the training to effectively assess and provide skilled speech, language, literacy, and dyslexia therapy/instruction. Contact Building Successful Lives Speech & Language Services if you require further consultation or evaluation for a child or adolescent.



T. Anderson, M.S., Ed.S., CCC-SLP

Speech Language Pathologist, Education Specialist, Author, Consultant


Dr. Hugh Catts

Professor and Director of the School of Communication Science and Disorders

Florida State University

*Robert Schwartz Memorial Lecture








What are Learning Disabilities?