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At a Glance: Learning and Attention Issues That Can Cause Everyday Communication Problems

By Lexi Walters Wright

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Kids with certain learning and attention issues can find it hard to express themselves and understand others. They can have trouble with spoken and nonverbal communication. Here’s what this may look like in one-on-one and group situations.

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At a Glance: Issues That Can Cause Everyday Communication Problems

Several learning and attention issues can cause trouble with spoken and nonverbal communication. See how this can play out from the classroom to the playground—and what may be behind the behavior.

In the Classroom
The problem:
Can’t follow or “hear” the teacher in a noisy classroom.

What could be causing it:
Attention-decit hyperactivity disorder,
auditory processing disorder
Has trouble following a sequence of spoken directions.
What could be causing it:
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder,
executive functioning issues, auditory
processing disorder, dyslexia,
receptive language disorder
Can’t express himself correctly through speech (vocabulary, sentence structure).
What could be causing it:
Expressive language disorder,
dyspraxia, dyslexia
Can memorize and repeat information but shares it at the wrong time.
What could be causing it: Nonverbal learning disabilities
Tells too much detail but doesn’t get to the point or see the big picture.
What could be causing it: Nonverbal learning disabilities
Blurts out an answer even before the question is finished.
What could be causing it: Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
Speaks too softly or loudly, or too fast or too slowly.
What could be causing it: Auditory processing disorder, social
communication disorder
Doesn’t adjust his language, volume, tone or inflection for the situation.
What could be causing it: Social communication disorder
Doesn’t understand the multiple meanings of words. Has trouble matching the correct meaning to the word
What could be causing it: Nonverbal learning disabilities


One-on-One With Teacher
The problem:
Doesn’t accurately hear or understand what others say to him. Responds inappropriately.
What could be causing it:Receptive language disorder, auditory
processing disorder, attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder

Is slow to process or respond to what someone says to him.
What could be causing it:Receptive language disorder,
expressive language disorder, auditory
processing disorder, attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder

Has trouble tracking the flow of conversations and social interactions. Seems “lost” during conversations.


What could be causing it: Nonverbal learning disabilities

During Games or Activities With a Group of Kids
The problem:
“Talks over” and ignores what other kids are saying.
What could be causing it: Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
Talks off topic and monopolizes the conversation.
What could be causing it: Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder,
social communication disorder
Takes things literally. Doesn’t “get” jokes or understand things that are implied but not stated.
What could be causing it: Social communication disorder,
nonverbal learning disabilities


One-on-One With Peers
The problem:
Awkward social conversation (greetings, changing speech to suit the situation).

What could be causing it:
Social communication disorder,
auditory processing disorder,
nonverbal learning disabilities,
expressive language disorder


Talks nonstop, interrupts and speaks before thinking.
What could be causing it: Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder,
nonverbal learning disabilities,
expressive language disorder
Doesn’t accurately “read” other people’s body language.
What could be causing it: Nonverbal learning disabilities, social
communication disorder
Has trouble following the rules of conversation and storytelling.
What could be causing it:
Social communication disorder




Graphic of At a Glance: Communication Problems and Issues That Can Cause Them
Graphic of At a Glance: Communication Problems and Issues That Can Cause Them

What’s Next

Do you recognize your child in any of these scenes? If so, you may want to check out tips for helping your child build communication skills. You can also find out more about the specific learning and attention issues mentioned here.

About the Author

Portrait of Lexi Walters Wright

Lexi Walters Wright

A veteran writer and editor for parenting magazines and websites, Lexi Walters Wright has a master’s degree in library and information science and is proud to serve families at Understood.org.

More by this author

Reviewed by Mark Griffin, Ph.D. Feb 05, 2014 Feb 05, 2014

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