Terms you may hear from speech-language pathologists

At a glance

  • A speech-language pathologist, who often works with kids who learn and think differently, may use terms you haven’t heard before.

  • An audiologist is a health care professional who tests for hearing and balance issues.

  • Auditory processing is the ability to process and interpret sound correctly.

When you meet with a speech-language pathologist (SLP, or sometimes called a speech-language specialist) about your child’s learning differences, you may not know some of the terms you’re hearing. This printable mini-glossary can get you up to speed quickly.

Accommodations are changes in how something is taught or in the materials used to teach it. The goal is to make it possible for a student to work around learning challenges. A student with language difficulties might not have to answer questions out loud, for instance. But the student would still have to learn the same material as other students.

Assistive technology is any tool that helps students work around their issues. These could include a laptop, voice recognition software, or electronic math worksheets.

Audiologists are health care professionals who test for hearing and balance issues. An audiologist can rule out hearing loss as a medical reason for a child’s language and  issues.

Auditory memory refers to the brain’s ability to remember what it hears. That might include a teacher’s lecture or a line in a play. Weak auditory memory makes it hard to follow directions.

Auditory processing is the brain’s ability to process and interpret sound correctly. Trouble with auditory processing is not related to hearing loss.

Average range is a term therapists use when testing a child for learning differences. If the results fall below the average range for reading or listening comprehension, for instance, it may mean a child has a  or language disorder.

Decoding is the ability to recognize basic sounds and sound blends within a word. It can involve sounding out an unfamiliar word and being able to read it out loud.

DSM-5 stands for The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. (It is also called DSM-V.) This is the guide doctors and specialists use to diagnose learning, attention, and behavior disorders.

Expressive language allows people to put their thoughts into words, both speaking and writing.

Listening comprehension refers to the ability to understand speech. Kids with poor listening comprehension may have trouble interpreting what others say.

Modification refers to a change in what’s being taught to or what’s expected from the student. An example of a modification is having shorter assignments. 

Multidisciplinary evaluation is an evaluation of a student by at least two professionals. The purpose is to see whether the student can get services.

Oral language difficulties can involve a number of language skills. These include vocabulary, grammar and listening comprehension. They can also contribute to writing and reading issues.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about and break down the individual sounds in spoken words. It’s a key skill for learning to read.

Phonological processing refers to the ways children simplify speech as they’re learning to talk. Phonemic awareness is just one example of phonological processing.

Receptive language means comprehending what’s said or read. Kids with weak receptive language skills may struggle with concepts, vocabulary, directions, and questions.

Screening is often the first step in determining whether a child has a learning difference. It may include observation, interviews, a brief written test, and a review of school and health records.

Speech impaired (SI) is a type of special education services for students who have difficulty with speech sounds in their . Impairments include difficulties with articulation, fluency, and voice.

Understanding these terms can help you talk about your child’s issues with speech-language pathologists. For more information, find out what you need to know about speech therapy.

Key takeaways

  • Expressive language refers to finding words and forming clear sentences. Receptive language means listening and understanding what’s said or read.

  • Listening comprehension refers to the ability to understand speech. Kids with poor listening comprehension may have trouble following directions or interpreting what others say.

  • Speech language difficulties can involve a number of language skills. These include vocabulary, grammar, and listening comprehension. They can also contribute to writing and reading issues.


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