Bilingual Children Are Often Misdiagnosed. (Language Disorders)

Article excerpt

A language difference is not a language disorder. Still, every year, some bilingual children wind up being funneled into classrooms designed for children with learning disabilities. Elizabeth Pena, an assistant professor at The University of Texas at Austin's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, is working to develop better ways to assess language skills in bilingual children to prevent misdiagnosis and make sure that those with genuine learning problems get the help they need.

"If you look at the expected incidence of language impairment, minority children generally are overidentified or underidentified," Pena explains. "Not speaking English well can be interpreted as not having the ability to learn language well. If these kids end up getting placed in special education, expectations tend to go down. They are not getting an education that is consistent with their real abilities."

There also is a serious cost to a child with a genuine learning problem that does not get diagnosed early enough. "If children do not get identified, we have lost some critical time where they could have been getting services. By the third or fourth grade, they might be so far behind they don't have a chance. We are trying to come up with a measure that is better at classifying bilingual children with language problems and those without language problems."

Pena and Lisa Bedore, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, are collaborating with researchers in California and Pennsylvania to develop a language test for bilingual children four, five, and six years of age that will measure four important aspects of the youngster's use of language: vocabulary, grammar, the sounds of words, and the way kids communicate in interactions with others. …

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