Language Development in Children With Learning Disabilities

Not all learning disabilities are alike. While some learning disabilities can have a major impact on a child's language development, other learning disabilities might do very little in impeding a child's language ability. As different learning disabilities affect children in different ways, what parents need to know is how certain learning disabilities might affect their children’s language development.

Down Syndrome

According to Kay Mogford-Bevan, developmental psychologist and author of “Language Development in Exceptional Circumstances,” approximately one out of three children with a moderate learning disability is afflicted with a condition called Down syndrome -- a hot research area for those analyzing how learning disorders affect language 2. What researchers such as Mogford-Bevan have found is that children with Down syndrome have significant impairments in language development, more so than the impairments that plague the other aspects of their learning 2. While many children with Down syndrome can develop a basic ability of language comprehension, the production of language is difficult for children with Down syndrome, with these children typically producing their first word at around the age of 2, about one year later than children without learning disabilities.

Williams Syndrome

Children with Williams syndrome resemble children with Down syndrome in that they both have significantly low IQs, which obstruct learning. The difference, and what makes Williams syndrome interesting, is that sufferers of Williams syndrome have a high level of verbal skill. Language expert Steven Pinker states in his book, “The Language Instinct,” that Williams syndrome proves language and other cognitive skills develop separately, meaning that some children with learning disabilities can learn language fluently. Thus, children with Williams syndrome have no disorders in their language development. However, these children, due to their low IQs, often produce language lacking in meaningful content. An older child might possess language skills typical of his age but linger on topics that younger children typically discuss.


Autism affects communication and social development. Defects in these areas roll over into language development, as well, for many autistic children. Mogford-Brevon states that 50 percent of autistic children have a severe language disability due to their development of autism. In this population, children either do not speak or exhibit echolaic speech, which is the repetition of words they hear from others. Autistic children who exhibit echolaic speech rely on repetition to maintain social interaction and usually do not understand the words they are repeating.

Specific Language Impairment

Some parents concerned by a slow language development in their children might attribute that slowness to a learning disability. However, according to language researcher and author of “Language Development,” Erika Hoff, some children might be perfectly fine in their other areas of development, only having an impairment in their language skills. These children tend to have smaller vocabularies than their peers and learn grammar at a much slower rate. In many cases, children with specific language disorders can get on track with their peers after sessions with a speech therapist.