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Problems associated to dysphasia

November 2010

My child has a primary language disorder (dysphasia), and I was told that other associated problems could arise. What are the most commonly known problems associated to this disorder?

It is true that many children with a primary language disorder (dysphasia) also have what is referred to as other associated problems. These problems manifest in different ways, and they are neurological by nature; in other words, most of the time, they are caused by a mild dysfunction in the brain. It is important, however, to point out that dysphasic children will not necessarily experience all of the problems listed below, and the degree of severity will vary from one child to another. Here are a few of the most common associated problems: 

1. Motor skill problems

In terms of gross motor skills, dysphasic children may have a hard time carrying out daily living tasks due to clumsiness, balance problems, and difficulty jumping or running. Gripping and holding a small or big ball can also be difficult for them. Some parents have even reported that learning to ride a bike was a long and arduous experience for their child.

In terms of fine motor skills, dysphasic children often have difficulty using tools, such as crayons, scissors and utensils. They also have problems using smaller objects or fastening clothing items, such as buttons, laces or zippers.

Dysphasic children may also experience problems with motor planning (apraxia), which means they have difficulty coordinating motor movements. They do not seem to know how to go about a task and have difficulty acquiring a method. Consequently, they tend to carry out a task in a disorganized pattern even though they have been shown how to go about it.

2. Sensory problems

Sensory problems involve difficulty perceiving stimuli received through the senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, taste, and motion perception. Some children have low sensitivity to stimuli (hyporeactivity), while others may have abnormally high sensitivity to stimuli (hyperreactivity). In terms of hearing, for example, many children show hyperreactivity when exposed to noise. They cannot tolerate any loud noise; they will cover their ears and will respond with great irritability. In terms of taste, some children cannot tolerate certain food textures and/or will refuse to eat certain foods. In terms of touch, some children avoid exposing their skin to certain sensations, such as walking barefoot on sand or grass, and having dirty hands. Other children may show low sensitivity to such sensations or even feel nothing at all when they get hurt and can appeared to treat their body harshly. In terms of vestibular (motion perception), some children can experience dizziness very easily; they can even seek this sensation with great fervor by spinning around in circles. 

3. Cognitive problems

No matter how intelligent they may be, some dysphasic children may have poor cognitive function. In fact, some children experience difficulty with abstraction abstract thinking or concepts)), such as colours, numbers, space, etc.). They may also have difficulty generalizing what they learn; therefore, what they accomplish at home can take longer in other environments.

Dysphasic children may also experience attention problems. In some children, such problems tend to manifest in moodiness, distraction, and avoidance. Other children have difficulty remaining focused on one task for an extended period of time, jumping impulsively from one activity to another. Because they can be easily distracted by everything around them, children with attention problems will exhibit restless, hyperactive or impulsive behaviour. What could be causing agitation in a dysphasic child requires careful evaluation before reaching the conclusion of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. For example, it is possible that a dysphasic child will move around a lot as a response to their inability to fully understand what is going on around them, causing them to become restless and temperamental. Such reactions will eventually subside as language abilities improve. 

4. Behavioral problems

Many dysphasic children experience behavioral problems because they have difficulty understanding verbal messages and expressing their thoughts. Behavioral problems can manifest in a number of ways, some of which include isolation, social withdrawal, hostility, anger and anxiety. Coping with these behaviours and their repercussions on a daily basis can be very demanding and challenging for parents. Furthermore, dysphasic children tend to react unfavorably to new situations and changes because such experiences make them feel very insecure. As a result, these children tend to be more vulnerable.

We have just covered the most common problems associated to dysphasia. Due to the fact that these problems affect many different aspects of child development, it is important that a multidisciplinary team assist the family and help the child reach their full potential. An occupational therapist provides assistance with motor and sensory problems. A psychologist, social worker and/or special education teacher could become involved if a behavioral problem exists. Of course, a speech therapist addresses the language disorder and provides the child with all of the required support. 


We would like to thank Josée Laganière, psychologist, Geneviève Lauzier, speech therapist, and Josée Delambre, occupational therapist from 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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