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Older Children and Adolescents with Language Learning Problems

Background and aims

Language learning difficulties in children are the most frequently occurring disability in speech therapeutic practice in the pre-school and school areas. Recent insights acquired through language learning research have facilitated deductions for a therapy in the sense of developmental accompaniment, which is practised successfully with younger children. Despite this success, there are still children who retain the disability into their teens. Up till now, little attention has been paid to this group by special education research: there are hardly any research results about older children and adolescents with language learning problems in the German-speaking area; there is a lack of theoretically sound diagnostic and therapeutic concepts.
Against this background, the project aims at expanding the state of knowledge about older children and adolescents with language learning problems. The aim is to identify the central problems and special needs of the persons affected. In addition to the language problems, particular attention is paid to the resulting adverse effects on communicative, social and school activities. This is intended to provide information about necessary starting points for advice and therapy and form the basis for further research projects.

The project is situated at the interface between research, teaching and practice. Part of the objective consists of showing the possibilities of a networking of the specific areas through co-operation with practising speech therapists and the integration of students (project work).


In a preliminary phase of the project, the issues were pursued through interviews. The target group was speech therapists at German-Swiss speech therapy schools specialising in lower secondary and upper secondary levels. This technique provided insights into the problems seen from the perspective of practising speech therapists. Questions were asked about the problems experienced by the children in linguistic, communicative and school activities, as well as about the therapy practised at the time. The results of this preliminary phase from February 2003 to April 2004 are available. Data was acquired from 78 pupils aged between 10 and 16. The quantitative and qualitative analysis of the interview data provides a picture of the disorders connected with linguistic, communicative, socio-emotional, cognitive and school activities, as well as of the speech therapy practised at the time. The relevance of the results for further research and for speech therapy will be discussed.


The striking features in the socio-emotional area proved to be much less serious than was observed in comparable studies. For this reason, a further investigation was carried out with a control group of 31 pupils at elementary schools (phase 1B), which confirmed the results of phase 1.

The second phase of the project is focused on themes that are a) of high practical relevance and b) whose processing is realistic in terms of time economy within the framework of the project. In view of the apparent persistence of language learning difficulties in older children and adolescents, the emphasis falls on themes that deal with the "treatment of residual symptomatics". As planned, priority is given to the development of aids to decision-making for speech therapists in terms of the main focus of the therapy and therapeutic pauses.

For these aids to decision-making, the following four categories of therapy indicators were developed: linguistic-communicative competencies, socio-emotional stability, institutional conditions and the social environment, and school performance. A preliminary version was tested by the speech therapists participating in the project and is currently being reworked. A computer version of the aids for decision-making is also planned.


Eine Dokumentation des Projekts ist 2008 im SZH Verlag erschienen:

  • Kolonko, B. & Seglias, T. (2008). Jugendliche mit Spracherwerbsstörungen. edition szh. Das Buch kann für 48.20 zzgl. Porto direkt an der HfH bezogen werden. Bestellungen an info

Weitere Publikationen:

  • Kolonko, B. (2002). Sprechen lernen ist eine erstaunliche Leistung. Sprachentwicklung und Sprachförderung. In: Theorie und Praxis der Sozialarbeit, Sammelband, 2002, 25-29.
  • Kolonko, B. & Seglias, T. (2000). Semantische Störungen. VBL-Bulletin, 19, 6-15.
  • Kolonko, B. & Seglias, T. (2005). Spracherwerbsstörungen bei älteren Kindern und Jugendlichen an Sprachheilschulen. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Heilpädagogik, 2, 26-32.



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