Your Amazing Preschooler

When you think about it, it is amazing how children develop speech and language skills in their preschool years with practically no instruction. And then upon entering school, children are expected to utilize their new tools to achieve academic competence and social negotiation- keys to happiness.

Early Development

What most of us don’t realize is that to be successful in spoken language, this young child must develop competence in multiple systems. First, the young learner must create and master a system that represents meaning. Next, they need to acquire a facility for language and its forms.

This facility of language begins with developing an understanding of the structure of words and it gradually morphs into comprehending the grammatical structure of sentences. After all this technical know-how is mastered, these tools must then be joined with social skills.

How does this all happen? Children in the preschool years rhyme words together and break words apart into syllables. This is known as phonological awareness.

As a child learns to read, other skills must be developed too. Those in the field commonly differentiate the two main areas of reading into word recognition and comprehension.

Word recognition is merely knowing how to pronounce a word. Learning to recognize the different letters is the first step. It is soon followed by developing the ability to manipulate different sounds contained in words and finally learning the rules that determine the relationship between letters and their pronunciation.

Reading comprehension, on the other hand, is the ability to interpret the words printed in the text correctly. The skills that are required for this aspect of reading are almost identical to those needed for listening comprehension.  

Where Are the Problems?

Children entering school with poor skills in listening, speaking or phonological processing are prone to problems that may significantly impact their development. These impairments will not only have negative academic consequences but often will lead to behavior and emotional problems also. Research has shown that these children have a higher incidence of sexual assault and victimization as well.

Understanding the Connection

Two hypotheses have emerged over the years attempting to explain the relationship between speech-language deficits and the problems mentioned above.

One of the hypothesis sees the association between spoken language and the ensuing problems as causal in nature. Some research suggests that language difficulties might cause behavior problems which in turn lead to fewer opportunities for language learning eventually becoming manifest in maladaptive behaviors due to the increasing frustration.  It’s a vicious cycle!

Another possibility suggested is that children suffering language difficulties are vulnerable to problems with self-regulation as well, which often lead to behavioral issues.

Alternatively, other researchers claim that the connection between language and reading problems and behavior problems indicates a common underlying condition responsible for both. This condition has been identified as a neuromaturational delay that results in underachievement in both domains.  

What Needs to be Done

Whatever the explanation of the connection between spoken language skills and subsequent reading and behavior development, the point is that there is a well-documented connection.  That being the case, it is imperative that if we wish to enable every child to succeed both academically and socially, we must address the core problem- building the child’s language skills!

Speech-language pathologists are trained to identify deficiencies that any given child may be suffering. Those with behavioral issues should be a priority given the association between language incompetency and behavior problems. Let’s address the problems while the children are small before these issues mushroom into more severe and complex problems later on!