SLI is a term that is used to describe difficulties with learning and using language. These difficulties are not associated with factors such as general learning difficulties, or other conditions, such as cerebral palsy, hearing impairment or autistic spectrum disorders. Children with SLI are often as clever as any other child of their age but they still have difficulties with speech and language, hence the term ‘specific’, as difficulties are specific to this area.
For no obvious reason, a child with SLI will not develop speech and language skills in the expected way. More often than not, there is no obvious reason for this difficulty. This means, for example, a child with SLI might be bright, but struggle to understand the language used in the classroom. They may have lots of ideas but find it hard to make sentences to say what they are thinking, but they do not have any other condition that may be causing these problems.
SLI looks different in all children, and is really complicated to understand because we don’t really know the cause. We know that the speech and language part of the brain does not develop in the right way, even though there are no other problems, and that genes play an important part in causing SLI. Unfortunately there is no medical test to see if a child has SLI or not.