Speech or Language Impairment (SLI)


Speech or Language Impairment is a problem in communication,and can refer to a child’s language development being significantly below age level.  A child's communication is considered delayed when the child is noticeably behind peers in the development of speech and/or language skills.  Causes of speech and language disorders can include hearing loss, brain injury or disorder, intellectual disability, drug abuse, physical impairments (such as cleft lip or palate), and vocal issues.  The cause may also be unknown.

A speech disorder refers to difficulties producing speech sounds or problems with voice quality.  A language disorder refers to difficulties in the ability to understand (receptive language) and/or use words or express thoughts (expressive language).  Sometimes a child will have both language and speech delays. In most local school districts, speech/language pathologists will conduct testing which helps to determine if there is a disorder. 

Speech or language impairment is one of the categories of disability specified in IDEA. This means that a child with a speech or language impairment may be eligible for special education and related services if it adversely affects their education.

  • Noticeably behind other students in speech and/or language skills development
  • May have a learning disability (difficulties with reading or written language) with average intelligence
  • Improper use of words and their meanings
  • Inability to express ideas
  • Inappropriate use of grammar when talking or writing
  • Inability to follow directions
  • Difficulties in understanding and/or using words in context, both verbally and nonverbally
  • May hear or see a word but not be able to understand its meaning
  • May have trouble getting others to understand what they are trying to communicate
  • Has difficulty remembering and using specific words during conversation, or when answering a question
  • Asks questions and/or responds to questions inappropriately
  • Has difficulty discriminating likenesses and differences
  • Has difficulty breaking words into sounds and syllable
  • Has difficulty with concepts of time, space, quantity, size, and measurement
  • Has difficulty understanding and using complex sentences
  • Has problems understanding rules and patterns for word and sentence formation
  • Cannot identify pronouns
  • Cannot retell the events in a story in order
  • Cannot make predictions, make judgments, draw conclusions
  • Difficulties with figurative language (such as alliteration, similes, metaphors, personification, and idioms)
  • Cannot give clear directions
  • Cannot summarize essential details from hearing or reading a passage, nor distinguish relevant from irrelevant information
  • Has difficulty understanding and solving math word problems (one or multi-step)
  • Will not initiate conversations
  • Has difficulty reading what others communicate through facial expressions and body language
  • Repeats what is said or what is read, vocally or subvocally (under breath)
  • Uses gestures when talking or in place of talking
  • Is slow to respond during verbal interaction or following verbal cues
  • Cannot identify or use different language in written work (expository, descriptive or narrative)
  • Cannot write an organized paragraph

  • Noticeably behind other students in speech and/or language skills development
  • Trouble forming sounds (called articulation or phonological disorders)
  • Difficulties with the pitch, volume, or quality of the voice
  • May display stuttering (dysfluency), an interruption in the flow of speech
  • Omits or substitutes sounds when pronouncing words
  • May have trouble getting others to understand what they are trying to say
  • May have trouble with the way their voice sounds
  • Is echolalic (repeats speech)
  • Does not use appropriate speaking volume (too loud or too soft)
  • May have breathy, harsh, husky or monotone voice
  • Continually sounds congested
  • Sounds nasal and voice may have a "whining" quality
  • Has abnormal rhythm or rate of speech
  • Frequently prolongs or repeats sounds, words, phrases and/or sentences during speech
  • Has unintelligible (cannot be understood) or indistinct speech

Academics & Behavior
  • Overall academic achievement may be lower than expected
  • Word knowledge may be below expectancy
  • Word substitutions may occur frequently in reading and writing (when copying)
  • Hesitates or refuses to participate in activities where speaking is required
  • Is inattentive and has difficulty with concentration
  • May not initiate or maintain eye contact
  • May become easily frustrated
  • Has difficulty following directions
  • Must be "shown" what to do
  • Has trouble understanding information from what is seen, heard or felt
  • May be embarrassed by speech, regardless of age
  • Acts impulsively, and may respond before instructions are given out
  • May isolate themselves from social situations

  • May be conditions in the student's medical/developmental history, such as cleft lip and/or palate, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, brain injury or disorder, aphasia, hearing loss, ear surgery, facial abnormalities, or congenital (present at birth) disorders
  • Has frequent allergy problems or colds
  • Has oral muscular coordination slower than normal
  • Displays clumsiness or seems to be uncoordinated

Strategies for Speech or Language Impairment