Results from studies also suggest that there are various reasons for different types of language difficulties and that further developments vary between difficulties. For perhaps half of the children, the difficulties will disappear before the child starts school. Nevertheless, a large group of children with language difficulties will struggle with technical challenges such as learning to read and write in school and adolescence.
When children struggle to learn language without there being any apparent causes, it is often called a specific language difficulty. Children with specific language difficulties have normal abilities and no additional handicaps to explain their problems. It is estimated that approximately 5-7 per cent of all children have such language difficulties.
What is it like to have specific language difficulties?
Some children become frustrated and angry when they cannot make themselves understood and express their opinion to fulfill their desires. Others respond by being upset and retreating from situations that give a feeling of lack of mastery. It is therefore important that people in the child's immediate environment help children to develop language and social skills and ensure that they receive good social experiences similar to children without language difficulties. One must adapt so that children with language difficulties will maintain the pleasure of talking.
Children with specific language difficulties have increased risk of also developing reading and writing difficulties and psychological problems. Lack of self-esteem and social withdrawal may make it difficult to integrate into groups of peers. Early special educational assistance may be crucial to prevent or minimise the chances that such secondary problems develop.
Being parents of children with language difficulties
To be parents of a child who has language difficulties can be frustrating. The difficulty is not always that serious, but parents want to do all they can to stimulate the child's development and catch up the lead of the peers. It is then frustrating that many experts say "wait and see”, "he will probably grow out of it," etc. Many families say that it was difficult to get their child referred early enough to specially trained professionals who can assess and evaluate the child. This may have contributed to the child not getting extra help until age four.
Assessment of language difficulties
It is important that parents do not give up when they think something is wrong. Most childcare centres can conduct systematic observations to detect the onset of language difficulties. The school also has assessment materials that teachers can use to identify such problems. In addition, the general practitioner and public health nurse know how to obtain a good assessment of the child's difficulties. In routine controls of two - and four-year olds, a public health nurse will evaluate the child's hearing and its linguistic skills. They will refer the child for further investigation if needed. The earlier one identifies, investigates and take appropriate action, the greater the chance these children have of coping with the normal requirements they face in childhood, adolescence and adult life. Early intervention is often essential for a positive development for the child and to prevent the development of additional problems that can be just as inhibiting as the primary language difficulty.
What rights do children with specific language difficulties have?
When a child has reduced function in one area, the community has a responsibility to help the child and facilitate the environmental conditions to minimise the function disability (Report no. No. 8 (1998-99) About the action plan for the handicapped 1998-2001).
Special educational assistance in childcare centres
Pre-school aged children with disabilities have the right to receive special help. The assistance can be linked to childcare centres and schools or organised as separate interventions. They can also be given to parents in the form of counseling, and more. Help can be given by employees of educational and psychological services (PPT) or professionals from another competent authority (the Education Act 1998: § 5-7).
The principle of adapted education in schools
Adapted education means that each school and teacher is responsible for adapting the education to the abilities and aptitudes of the individual pupil (the Education Act 1998: § 1-2 and 5).
The principle of special education
Pupils who need adaptation beyond the differentiated and individualised fit in regular education have the right to special education in elementary and secondary schools (the Education Act 1998: § 1-3 and 5-1). The right to receive special education is based on an expert assessment from PPT (the Education Act 1998: § 5-6). The special education is carried out based on an individual education plan prepared jointly between the special needs teacher, other teachers and parents (the Education Act 1999: § 5-5). After-school programs also have a duty to provide good development conditions for children with disabilities.
Where can parents turn?
If parents suspect that their child has specific language difficulties, they should initially discuss this with professionals in the childcare centre, school, or with personnel from the health center if the child does not attend centre-based care. The childcare centre or school will then conduct a systematic observation and evaluation of the child's language skills and to refer it to PPT if there is a need for this. Parents may also directly contact the PPT themselves.
The Association for Parents of Children with Language Difficulties (Foreldreforeningen for barn med språkvansker) is working actively in relation to users' needs and interests. The association is organised under The Aphasia Association (Afasiforbundet) in Norway.
The Norwegian Association of Disabled (Norges handikapforbund) has long experience helping families and has good overview of the rights of disabled people who are enshrined in laws and regulations. The Norwegian Association of Disabled will help you use your rights.
Bredtvet Resource Centre (Bredtvet kompetansesenter) provides services to people with large and complex language, speech and voice problems, and to people with reading and writing difficulties. Bredtvet Resource Center offers courses for both professionals and parents.