24 Speak­ing of trou­ble

Sunday Herald Sun - - News - MONIQUE HORE

THE grow­ing num­ber of chil­dren with a lan­guage dis­or­der is a pub­lic health cri­sis as wide­spread as obe­sity, ex­perts say.

The Mur­doch Chil­drens Re­search In­sti­tute says de­vel­op­men­tal lan­guage dis­or­der af­fects 5-8 per cent of Aus­tralian chil­dren.

But the rate can be as high as 20 per cent among dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren.

Chil­dren with the dis­or­der are at risk of poor lit­er­acy skills, men­tal health is­sues and un­em­ploy­ment.

Lead re­searcher Pro­fes­sor James Law, from New­cas­tle Univer­sity, said it was a pub­lic health is­sue.

“The peo­ple who need the ser­vices most, least get them,” he said. “Our feed­back is that chil­dren are turn­ing up at school with re­ally poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

“Schools are try­ing to teach them com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the same time as they are try­ing to teach them their sub­jects.”

A pol­icy brief from the in­sti­tute calls for kinder­garten and early child­hood teach­ers to be bet­ter trained to spot the dis­or­der. It says par­ents and schools should also pro­mote lan­guage through con­ver­sa­tion, read­ing, mu­sic and rhyme.

Re­search from Aus­tralia and over­seas has shown that, with­out in­ter­ven­tion, chil­dren with a lan­guage dis­or­der con­tinue to strug­gle with lit­er­acy into their 30s.

About half of young male of­fend­ers in cus­tody also have sig­nif­i­cant oral lan­guage dif­fi­cul­ties.

Dr Noella Macken­zie, of Charles Sturt Univer­sity, said stu­dents with the dis­or­der of­ten strug­gled in school be­cause lit­er­acy un­der­pinned ev­ery sub­ject. She said 50 per cent of classes in­volved read­ing and writ­ing by the time a child was eight years old.

“Oral lan­guage devel­op­ment, we know, is the build­ing block for be­com­ing lit­er­ate,” Dr Macken­zie said.

“It all starts with oral lan­guage and vo­cab­u­lary and that be­comes the base for learn­ing to write and read.

“Lit­er­acy is what al­lows us to learn in other dis­ci­plines. You need those skills whether you are do­ing sci­ence, his­tory, math­e­mat­ics. If chil­dren can’t write, they are dis­ad­van­taged in ev­ery learn­ing op­por­tu­nity that comes their way.”

Speech Pathol­ogy Aus­tralia di­rec­tor Gaenor Dixon said de­vel­op­men­tal lan­guage dis­or­der was an “in­vis­i­ble prob­lem”.

“Some kids are very good at mask­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties they may have,” she said.

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