The Language Processing Iceberg


Frustrations with writing, spelling and reading words (especially unfamiliar words) are the most visible evidence of a more complex problem. What’s baffling to many parents is that their child is bright and verbal – their child should be able to read and write easily – so it’s difficult to make sense of these inconsistencies.

LANGUAGE PROCESSING                            

In our illustration, the visible portion of the iceberg includes the symptoms that are most easily observed, with the “above-the-surface” amount varying significantly among individuals. Sometimes the only observable symptoms are difficulties with spelling or writing.  Other times, observable symptoms may include problems with reading fluency or even with reading single words.  The part of the iceberg that is always under water includes language processing difficulties that are not readily observable to anyone – but that are the sources of the problem.  These basic language processing problems can be revealed only through a language-processing evaluation

As the International Dyslexia Association explains, “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.” In other words, it’s not that the child has bad teachers, or is lazy, or is developmentally disabled; it’s a matter of how the child’s brain is “wired.”



Language scientists divide language abilities in to domains,  as illustrated by the table below (Moats, 2010).  People differ widely in their ability to represent language in each of these domains. A language processing evaluation is designed to examine underlying skills in each of these domains, permitting more targeted and effective treatment.








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