Expressive and Receptive Language Delays/Impairments

Developing the ability to express ourselves is an important part of growing up. Being social creatures living in structured communities, we humans need to be able to ask for what we want, to tell others what we don’t like, to seek help, and to express ideas.

It can be quite concerning when your child isn’t speaking at the same level as other kids their age. If your child has difficulty getting their message across or doesn’t seem to understand what others are saying, then it’s important to rule out a language disorder.

A language disorder is an impairment that makes it hard for someone to find the right words, or to form sentences when speaking. Children with a language impairment might also find it difficult to understand what someone else is saying, answer questions appropriately and follow directions.

Let’s quickly look at the types of impairments a child might have, and how they can be supported.

Types of language delays or impairments

Language impairments or delays are broadly classified into two areas: expressive or receptive.

Expressive language disorder

Kids with an expressive language disorder find it difficult to express information through speech, writing, or gesture (including sign language). They have trouble communicating thoughts and ideas.

Receptive language disorder

Kids with a receptive language disorder have difficulty understanding what others are saying.
Children need to learn how to understand others before being able to form language themselves.

So those with a receptive language disorder often have an expressive language disorder too – an unfortunate double whammy!

Symptoms of expressive or receptive language disorders

If your child has a receptive language disorder, the main indicator is that they have trouble following instructions.

For example, if you ask them to put their toys in a specific basket, they don’t do it. This is not just them being naughty, instead, they genuinely cannot organise the information in their heads.

Receptive language issues can, therefore, be hard to spot in young children because they’re not usually asked to perform complex tasks or follow long verbal instructions yet. Another sign of a receptive language difficulty is if they answer a wh-question, that is ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘why’, ‘when’ or ‘who’, with information that is not relevant to the question. For example, if you ask “where is the ball?” and they answer with “blue” then this is a sign that they have not understood the question and are just hoping they have given you the right answer.

Expressive language disorders are easier to identify. Signs often include:

  • Having a limited vocabulary compared to other kids their age
  • Using sounds like ‘um’ and general words like ‘stuff’ rather than more specific words
  • Having a limited vocabulary that doesn’t seem to grow
  • Leaving out key phrases or words
  • Seeming frustrated by their inability to communicate thoughts
  • Speaking sentences that don’t make sense
  • Using a limited variety of sentence structures when speaking
  • Telling stories with jumbled or missing information

What causes language development problems in some kids?

Experts aren’t sure what causes receptive-expressive language impairments. Research is being conducted to determine whether biological or environmental causes are involved.

That being said, sometimes receptive-language problems are acquired through a brain injury. Damage sustained during a stroke, trauma, or other medical conditions can directly damage the brain, sometimes causing a language disorder to develop. This is true for both children and adults.

How are expressive or receptive language impairments diagnosed?

Speech therapists can determine not only whether your child expresses themselves less competently than expected for their age; they also assess whether they understand speech. The latter can be tricky, so we use non-verbal play-based and book-based tests in addition to other spoken exercises.

Hearing tests, verbal communication tests, language comprehension tests and observation all contribute to a diagnosis.

At SpeechEase, we know that you are the #1 expert on your child, so our speech therapists also work closely with you – the parent. We find out as much as we can about your child’s developmental history in order to get a better picture of your child.

Once a diagnosis is reached, the next step is developing a treatment plan that’s best suited to your little one’s individual needs. We develop this in conjunction with you, based on goals that are individualised for your child, using our Steps To Success Action Plan.

Treatment options for receptive or expressive language disorders

Every child is different, which is why some treatments might differ from one child to the next. Our speech pathologists at SpeechEase are trained in a number of different evidence-based modalities. They will create a treatment plan that might include one or more of the following:

  • Individual speech therapy
  • Group speech-language therapy
  • Integration support at home and at school
  • Support and education for families

What to do next

Is your child having trouble communicating, or understanding what they’re being told? Early intervention is the key to a successful outcome. SpeechEase is a friendly, family-centred speech pathology practice located in Townsville and Mackay.

Call us today on 1300 773 273 for a free consultation with one of our speech pathologists.

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