Language is one of our most important and complex skills and is often affected by a brain injury in ways that may be subtle but nevertheless important. We start to hear, respond to and learn language from the time we are born. By about five years of age, most of the basic language structures are in place, but the process of extending and refining these structures, building vocabulary and thinking skills, learning to read and write, goes on throughout childhood and adolescence.
A brain injury can interrupt this process. The younger the child when the brain injury occurs, the smaller the ‘store’ of vocabulary and language structures he/she has built up, and can call on after the injury. In general, the more severe the brain injury, the more severe the language problem – although there are exceptions to the rule (as in most areas of brain injury).
A speech pathologist is the person to help with language problems-ideally one who is experienced in working with young people with a brain injury.
Language involves both ‘comprehension’ – understanding what others say, and ‘expression’ – saying things ourselves. And it also involves the thinking that links these two together, enabling us to respond appropriately to what someone else says. There are many skills and resources involved such as a large vocabulary, the rules of grammar, stringing ideas into a narrative and organising the mouth, throat and lungs in complex sequences to talk.