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More children turning up with language disorders
THE GROWING number of children who arrive at school unable to communicate with teachers and other children is a public health crisis as widespread as obesity, experts have warned.
The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has revealed developmental language disorder affects between 5-8% of children on average but the rate can be as high as 20% among disadvantaged children.
Children who cannot communicate properly because they lack the skills are at risk of poor literacy skills, mental health issues and unemployment.
Lead researcher Professor James Law, from Newcastle University, said it constituted 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 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 also calls on parents and schools to promote language by reading, conversation, music and rhyme.
Research from Australia and overseas has shown, without intervention, children with a language disorder continue to struggle with literacy in their 30s.
About half of young male offenders on custodial sentences also have significant oral language difficulties.
Charles Sturt University’s Dr Noella Mackenzie said students with the disorder often struggled in school because literacy underpinned every subject.
She said 50% of classes involved reading and writing by the time a child was eight years old.
“Oral language development, we know, is the building blocks 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 development language disorder was an “invisible problem”.
“Some kids are very good at masking the difficulties they may have,” she said.
“Rather than looking dumb at school, they might act up and get removed from the classroom.
“The consequences of unsupported developmental language disorder is that kids have difficulty at school and their literacy and numeracy skills are poor.”
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CONCERNING: Charles Sturt University’s Dr Noella Mackenzie says students with oral language difficulties often struggle in school because literacy underpins every subject.