Orange County Learning Disabilities Association


Communication begins at birth with touch, then with vision, and finally with speech and hearing or audition. Each child needs to learn the "codes of his/her culture" because the language of each culture is different. Yet, if a child is to learn about his/her world, the ability to communicate must exist. Even after a baby learns the rudiments of communication through touch, vision and hearing, those skills need to continue to be refined until, at about age 7, the brain is ready to deal with the abstracts concepts involved in reading, writing, comprehension, math "language" or concepts, and body language.

The acquisition and use of language and communication skills is at the heart of learning disabilities. These skills include speech, reading, writing and spelling, comprehension, reasoning, math language and body language. All of these skills need an intact sensory system to function appropriately.

Language acquisition is divided into several parts:

  • Receptive language: language that is spoken or written by others and received by an individual, i.e. listening or reading (decoding or getting meaning from spoken words or written symbols). In order to receive language, the individual must be able to attend to, process, comprehend, retain and/or integrate spoken or written language. In order to do proper auditory processing, the individual needs to have phonemic awareness, the ability to notice, think about and manipulate the individual sound in words and phonemes (sound-symbol correspondence); and phonological awareness, sound-symbol recognition or the ability to recognize specific sounds, which is necessary for good reading and spelling. Good visual processing demands the ability to interpret visual symbols, to differential visual figure from ground, to have a functional visual memory and, for writing, good visual-motor activity.
  • Cognitive language: language that is received, processed into memory, integrated with knowledge already integrated and made a part of the knowledge of the individual from which new ideas and concepts can be generated. It is a part of the creative process that shapes the thought of each person.
  • Expressive language: language and communication through speaking, writing, and/or gestures, i.e. selecting words, formulating them into ideas, and producing them through speaking, writing, or gesture (encoding or the process of expressive language). Expressive language involves word retrieval, rules of grammar (syntax) word and sentence structure (morphology) and word meaning (semantics). 1

By the time a child is five years old, speech skills should be such that the child can be understood 100% of the time. The ability to read easy words and comprehend them should be in place for most children by the time a child is 7 or 8 years old. If children are not ready to read by fourth grade, they will not be able to keep up with the curriculum designated by the state.

1 Moore, Barbara, M.A, CCC. Assessment: What is the Role of the Speech Pathologist in the Assessment of Language/Learning Disordered Students? OCLDA Newsletter, Vol. 38, No.6, Nov/Dec, 2000.