Language disorders aren’t confined to children. Adults may experience problems as well, usually the result of either a disorder they’ve had since childhood or a newly acquired disorder related to disease or trauma. The latter scenario is often accompanied by a loss of function in other areas and poses a threat to a person’s health and quality of life.
What Causes a Language Disorder?
Unlike a speech disorder, which involves difficulty with pronunciation or articulation, a language disorder occurs when a person has trouble understanding others or sharing their own thoughts, ideas and feelings. It is commonly associated with a stroke.
Other medical conditions that may be responsible for acquired adult language disorders include dementia, traumatic brain injury, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), Huntington’s Disease and certain types of cancer.
In some cases, a language disorder may have existed since birth and not become apparent until language demands escalated with age.
What Are the Symptoms of a Language Disorder?
Children may experience preschool language disorders or language-based learning disabilities. Symptoms associated with the former include difficulty with the following:
- Understanding and/or using gestures.
- Following directions.
- Answering questions.
- Identifying objects.
- Putting words together to form sentences.
- Starting conversations and taking turns with others.
- Telling a story.
- Learning the alphabet.
Language-based learning disabilities involve problems with age-appropriate reading and writing. Dyslexia is a perfect example; children have difficulty with both spoken and written words and often experience problems expressing ideas, learning vocabulary, understanding questions and following directions. They may mix up the order of letters in words or numbers in math equations.
It is important to note that language-based learning disabilities have nothing to do with a child’s intelligence.
Adult language disorders are usually classified as aphasia, the result of damage to the areas of the brain that are responsible for language. Symptoms include difficulty producing (e.g., finding the right words to say, using made-up words) and understanding (misunderstanding others when they speak, misinterpreting what is said) language and problems with reading and writing.
How Are Language Disorders Treated?
Adult language disorders are best treated by a professional speech-language pathologist (SLP) skilled in the evaluation and treatment of patients with this type of disorder. The SLP will converse with the patient and may conduct a variety of tests to determine whether a disorder is present and if so gauge its severity.
Treating adult language disorders can be challenging. When language loss occurs following a stroke or other traumatic brain injury, the neurological damage is often progressive and difficult (if not impossible) to reverse. Speech and language therapy can help a person regain some functioning, but the odds of a full recovery are rare.
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