At my son’s preschool, they periodically do developmental screenings. I have never given much thought to these assessments since, having been a teacher for almost 20 years, I felt pretty confident that a learning disability or developmental delay would be obvious to me. Imagine my surprise when I learned that he had failed the speech and language screening. While discussing the evaluation with his teacher, I was shocked to learn that all of the children who spoke Spanish had failed.

Fortunately, I have a cousin in my family who is a speech pathologist and sought her advice and counsel on this matter. She encouraged me to have my son evaluated by a bilingual speech professional since his speech and language errors could be a result of his multilingualism (Spanish, English and German).

The director of the preschool was able to recommend resources and programs within my community where I could take my son for a more in-depth evaluation with a bilingual specialist. In my county there are regular developmental screenings provided free to the community. There are also referrals for follow-up care and therapy that is low cost or free.

I took my son to be screened and was happy to learn that his speech and language development are well within normal ranges for his age in both Spanish and English.  In fact, the speech pathologist thought that it was wonderful that both my boys were multilingual and went on to tell me how beneficial bilingualism is to the cognitive development of a child. While I never wavered in my conviction to raise my children to speak Spanish, I was disheartened to find that his speaking of other languages resulted in his English skills being assessed as below average and deficient by a monolingual professional.

Actually, my son’s case is not all that uncommon. My March issue of California Educator magazine had an entire article on just this issue, Language disorder — or just learning a new language? In the article, Pamela Greenhalgh, a speech-language pathologist, pointed out that students learning English are often misdiagnosed with language disorders when really they are just in the process of acquiring a new language. Sometimes a misdiagnosis can even lead to students being incorrectly placed in special education classes.

When my son was initially diagnosed with having a speech disorder, I knew that a follow up evaluation by a bilingual specialist was essential for an accurate analysis of his linguistic abilities. Parents, teachers, doctors and developmental specialists need to be aware that second-language acquisition can lead to a misdiagnosis. If possible, have another evaluation done in both languages to determine whether follow-up therapy or interventions are necessary. Talk to your pediatrician, school district or county to find services that will help you. Until there is a greater understanding of bilingualism in this country, we must be advocates for our children to be sure that they are being accurately assessed on their abilities.

For families living in Orange County, California, I recommend the Family Support Network. They provide free comprehensive screenings for children 0-5 years.

{photo by woodleywonderworks}

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