A Child with a Specific Language Impairment and a Dual Language Program

Introduction More than one million of the students served in public schools’ special education programs are eligible for services under the category of specific language impairment (SLI), (American Speech-Hearing-Language Association, n.d.-2). A specific language impairment refers to the student’s eligibility for speech and language services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), (Roseberry-McKibbin, 2001). A child with SLI may demonstrate a language disorder in either the receptive or expressive domains of language or with a language delay in their total language knowledge. These weaknesses may include improper use of words and their meanings, inability to express ideas, inappropriate grammatical patterns, reduced vocabulary knowledge, or an inability to follow directions (American Speech-Hearing-Language Association, n.d.-1). As dual language education grows in popularity within the public school system, professionals and parents will be increasingly faced with the task of educating children with SLI in these programs. The Center for Applied Linguistics reports that as of November 2006, there are 110 schools in 65 California school districts that offer dual language educational programs. The California Department of Education reports that about 10% of all California students receive special education services (Jung, 2005). Under IDEA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all children are guaranteed equal access to all special programs available in public schools, including dual language programs. Nearly 19% of all students identified with disabilities under IDEA are diagnosed with SLI (Heward, 2006). Just as these students learn their first language in a unique manner, they will not learn a second language in the expected manner (Genesee, Paradis & Crago, 2004). Children with SLI may experience impairments in both of the languages they are learning. Children diagnosed with SLI will most likely demonstrate the same pattern of delay or disorder in both languages (Paradis, Crago, & Rice, 2003). In other words, the type of errors a child makes in their primary or dominant language would be expected in his/her second language. Statement of the Problem Many children are by necessity or by choice, learning a second language early in life. Although we know that young children acquire second languages more readily than adults, research addressing bilingualism and students with SLI is limited. If a student is struggling with learning one language, should another language be introduced? Many schools offer the option of bilingual schooling for all students. Students with SLI are eligible for these programs, yet it is unclear how these programs impact students’ learning. Purpose of Study The purpose of this study is to take an initial look at whether or not a 50/50 dual language program can meet the academic, linguistic, and social needs of a student with SLI. This study will also examine whether a child’s language development and disorder are manifested similarly in both English and Spanish.