Speech and language difficulties usually fall into three categories, (though there may be other speech/language disorders such as those caused by physical deformities, e.g. dysarthia); expressive disorders, receptive disorders and phonological difficulties.
A child with an expressive disorder finds it difficult to express his/her thoughts and feelings through speaking and writing. He/she may find it hard to recall the right word. He/she may try to communicate using gestures and sound effects. When he/she does speak it will often be in short phrases or sentences which may show incorrect grammar or tense. A child with this problem is likely to be very quiet in class.
Children with auditory processing difficulties find it hard to process what has been said. They find it hard to make sense of what they hear and have difficulty distinguishing between syllables, words and sentences. Sometimes these children are particularly upset by loud or sudden noises or noisy environments. He/she may have difficulty following directions and may seem disorganised and forgetful. In maths problem type calculations may be particularly difficult for the child and he/she may have difficulties following a conversation.
Children with a receptive disorder have problems understanding certain aspects of speech. The child can hear words but can’t always make sense of them, e.g. they may confuse a bell and a ball. His/her response is better if a visual clue or a gesture is accompanying the instruction. The child may be slow to respond to questions and instructions; he/she may have limited vocabulary and may have trouble working out what a story was about. He/she may confuse prepositions and may also have difficulties with spatial and temporal relationships.
Elective mutism is considered to be a speech disorder, although it is not so much that the child can’t speak but that he or she chooses not to speak in certain situations. This can be accompanied by other withdrawal activities.
It is possible that children can have one or more of the conditions and may well have difficulties which also fall into other special needs categories also.