Wikipedia Precis

This revision: 26th April 2013 .
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Pragmatic language impairment (PLI) is an impairment in understanding pragmatic areas of language. This type of impairment was previously called semantic-pragmatic disorder (SPD).

Pragmatic language impairments are related to autism and Asperger syndrome, but also could be related to other non autistic disabilities such as ADHD and mental retardation.

People with these impairments have special challenges with the semantic aspect of language (the meaning of what is being said) and the pragmatics of language (using language appropriately in social situations).


Individuals with PLI have particular trouble understanding the meaning of what others are saying, and they are challenged in using language appropriately to get their needs met and interact with others. Children with the disorder often exhibit:

  • delayed language development
  • aphasic speech (such as word search pauses, jargoning, word order errors, word category errors, verb tense errors)
  • Stuttering or cluttering speech
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • difficulty with pronouns or pronoun reversal
  • difficulty understanding questions
  • difficulty understanding choices and making decisions.
  • difficulty following conversations or stories. Conversations are "off topic" or "one sided".
  • difficulty extracting the key points from a conversation or story; they tend to get lost in the details
  • difficulty with verb tenses
  • difficulty explaining or describing an event
  • tendency to be concrete or prefer facts to stories
  • difficulty understanding satire or jokes
  • difficulty understanding contextual cues
  • difficulty in reading comprehension
  • difficulty with reading body language
  • difficulty in making and maintaining friendships and relationships because of delayed language development.
  • difficulty in distinguishing offensive remarks
  • difficulty with organizational skills

Relationship to autism

There is debate over the relationship between semantic-pragmatic disorder and autistic disorder as the clinical profile of semantic-pragmatic disorder is often seen in children with high-functioning autism.

Useful Links

The Speech Chicks

Blog with many useful resources on speech and language interventions and approaches.

SPD Web Page

An excellent collection of articles, educational advice and references on SPD/SPLD.


Pragmatics - Socially Speaking. An interesting article from ASHA.

Information Sheet

Information sheet from the NAS summarising semantic pragmatic impairments

Speech Pathology 100

100 reviewed sites for speech pathologists and speech pathology information

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