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Difficulties with Understanding Communication

Understanding what is said to us involves a range of different skills. We have included some of these skills below.

A young person may have difficulty in one or more of these areas. This will affect how well they understand what other people are saying.

Listening and attention

Paying attention and listening to other people can be difficult for some children. They may be easily distracted.

Auditory skills

We need to tell the difference between different sounds. This is known as ‘auditory processing’. We also need an effective memory for sounds and words. This is known as ‘auditory memory’.

Some children may find it difficult to remember enough words or sounds to make sense of what they are hearing.

Understanding words and concepts (semantics)

We need to understand the words a speaker is using. Some children find it difficult to learn and remember new words.

We also need to understand the meaning of a word or the ideas behind it. Some children find it difficult to understand abstract concepts. For example, words to do with size or time.

Understanding sentences

We need to understand the way sentences are constructed. This is often called ‘grammar’ or ‘syntax’.

We also need to understand how different word endings can change the meaning of a sentence. For example 'I pour' becomes 'I poured' if it has already happened.

Some children find it hard to understand sentences with lots of information or with complex structures.


When learning new words, children rely on their memory. This is because they need to compare new words to words they have already learnt. If a child has difficulty doing this, they will struggle to understand what is being said.

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