Expressive/Receptive Language Disorders

Children develop language at their own pace.  Some children may appear to understand everything adults say and speak in complete sentences from an early age while others take much longer to learn to speak and to listen.  Receptive language refers to understanding questions, following directions, and other skills that involve interpreting what others say.  Expressive language refers to learning new words, forming sentences, using correct grammar, and other aspects of communicating one’s own ideas to others.  A child may have difficulty developing skills in one or both of these categories.

Children with a receptive language disorder may have difficulty with:

  • Understanding nonverbal communication (e.g., shrugging, waving, etc.)
  • Taking turns in conversation
  • Following directions
  • Pointing to pictures and objects when they are named (e.g., “Do you see the cow?”)
  • Answering questions

Children with an expressive language disorder may struggle with:

  • Forming sentences
  • Using correct grammar
  • Asking questions
  • Learning songs or rhymes
  • Knowing how to start conversations or keep them going
  • Using nonverbal communication (e.g., gestures, facial expressions, etc.)
  • Labeling objects
How speech therapy helps:

Because children develop language at different rates, it can be difficult to determine whether a child is just “taking his/her time” learning language or if he/she has a language disorder.  An evaluation administered by a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP) can distinguish between “late talkers” and children with language disorders by analyzing the patterns of language skill deficits they exhibit and comparing their current receptive and expressive language skill level to that of same-aged peers.  The evaluation will also allow the SLP to identify which language skills the child is struggling to learn on their own so an appropriate treatment plan can be developed.  If an evaluation reveals a language disorder, speech therapy can help the child learn language skills they have not yet been able to acquire on their own.

Measurable success:

I worked with a set of twins who had been born prematurely and had a language disorder as a result.  When we began treatment, they struggled to answer questions correctly.  For example, if I asked them where they ate breakfast, they might tell me “cereal.”  They also had difficulty using pronoun gender correctly, often using “he” when telling me something about their mother.  These skills and language rules, which most people learn automatically without conscious thought, had to be taught directly in this case.  I used a combination of language-rich play activities and direct teaching of specific skills to help them notice the difference between the various “wh- question” words and between “he” and “she”/”him” and “her”/etc.  Over time, they began to speak more, and others were able to understand them much more easily.

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