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October 2010

My child speaks very little for their age and often seems to have difficulty understanding what is being said to them. I have been told that it is language delay, language impairment, dysphasia... How do I understand what they all mean?

What is language delay?

Language delay occurs in many children aged between 2 and 5 years. It can be caused by a number of factors, such as inadequate stimulation, frequent ear infections, emotional problems, a neurodevelopmental delay, etc. Language delay affects comprehension, vocabulary, sentence structure, pronunciation, and use of language. Children, who experience delayed language, generally go through the same development stages as other children, but they do so more slowly. This is why these children often have a language profile similar to that of younger children. Most often, they do overcome their language delay, and eventually acquire the same language skills of other children their age.

What is language impairment?

Language impairment is referred to when language difficulties persist in spite of language therapy. Even though there may be some noticeable improvement in the child’s language development due to stimulation received in therapy, it remains too slow and insufficient that the child is not able to catch up to the language skills of other children their age.

What is dysphasia?

Dysphasia is a language disorder that is often referred to as a primary impairment, which means that it does not arise from other impairments or factors, such as intellectual impairments, hearing loss, lack of stimulation, or bilingualism. Dysphasia, which occurs in 25 of every 10,000 people, is mainly caused by a neurological dysfunction in the area of the brain that is responsible for language.

Since 2004, the Ordre des Orthophonistes du Québec has been recommending to its members to use the term primary language impairment when referring to dysphasia. A child’s language development must be monitored before drawing any conclusions. Children under the age of four years, who are suspected of having language problems, will be considered at risk of having or being predisposed to primary language impairment (dysphasia).

There are many other terms used to describe dysphasia, such as audimutitas, developmental dysphasia, specific language impairment, congenital aphasia, and dysphasic syndrome. All these terms serve to mean the same thing.

Are there different types of dysphasia?

There are three different types of dysphasia:

  1. Receptive dysphasia: This form of dysphasia affects one’s ability to understand what is being said even though they are able to hear sounds very well. In other words, a child affected by this form of dysphasia will have trouble making out what is being said and comprehending messages.
  2. Expressive dysphasia: This form of dysphasia affects one’s ability to express themselves using language. In other words, the child will have trouble finding the right words to express themselves and being understood by others.
  3. Mixed dysphasia: This form of dysphasia affects one’s receptive and expressive abilities. In this case, the child will have trouble expressing themselves and understanding what is being said to them.

Who can help my child?

Regular visits with a speech therapist is essential in helping a child cope with dysphasia; and getting the parents involved in the rehabilitation process is critical so that the child can continue receiving help at home.

It is also important to mention that some children with dysphasia may also have other associated problems, such as motor development disorders, behavioral problems, attention deficit disorder, etc. Because of these, rehabilitation workers of different disciplines may become involved in assisting the child and their family, such as occupational therapists, psychologists, special education teachers, social workers, etc.



We would like to thank Mélanie Laporte, student of speech therapy, Anne Moïse-Richard, speech therapist, Josée Laganière, psychologist, and Geneviève Lauzier, speech therapist in the Communication Disorders Program, for all their collaboration in producing this capsule.

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Updated on 3/20/2015
Created on 1/19/2015
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