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Developmental Expressive Language Disorder: What is it?

One of the greatest joys for a parent is watching their child develop. It can be quite bothersome if your child has difficulty in expressing themselves, they do understand you but can’t express themselves.


Expressing language is defined as the communication skill through which your child uses words to express their thoughts and ideas. Expressive language disorder is a condition that impacts the child's ability to use language to express themselves. It does not have an impact on how people pronounce words, it is not a speech disorder. It can happen in any setting like- work, school, or anywhere else there can be social interaction.

In receptive language disorder, the person faces difficulty understanding what others are trying to communicate. In expressive language disorder, the person faces difficulty in answering questions and they may need extra time to respond to others thereby making it difficult for them to make friends and develop connections.

Expressive language disorder is often called developmental expressive language disorder (DELD).

Why is my child facing difficulty in expressing themselves?

The specific cause for language disorders is not clear yet but as per undergoing studies it can be related to the following underlying causes-

  • Genetics- several language disorders run in families. It can also be associated with various genetic conditions like down’s syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, etc.

  • Hearing impairment- if the child can’t hear you, how would they develop language skills?

  • Premature birth or low birth weight.

  • Brain injury.

  • Brain tumors.

It’s usually not related to your child’s level of intelligence.

According to DSM V, 3 to 7% of children have Expressive Language Disorder.

Causes of expressive language disorder
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Being a developmental disorder, the signs and symptoms of an expressive language disorder can show up in early childhood. Without timely help kids usually don’t outgrow these disorders, and the condition can persist into adulthood as well. A few common signs and symptoms of expressive language disorder per various age groups are-

Expressive language disorder in toddlers-

  • Using vague vocabulary like thing, stuff, etc.

  • Having a sparse vocabulary

  • Having trouble recalling words

  • Using short and simple sentences and they may also face difficulty in creating grammatically correct sentences

  • Difficulty in telling stories or explaining events

  • They often have difficulty starting conversations and they often speak quietly due to a lack of confidence

  • They string together long or complex sentences

For instance, a child says mommy car rather than ‘it’s mommy’s caror, instead of I went to school and had fun they say I goed to school. I have fun’.

An adult may face the following difficulties-

  • Struggles in initiating conversations or making small talk with their colleagues at work

  • Using short sentences and phrases

  • Repeating the same sentence or phrase over and over again

  • They may have difficulty with public speaking like giving presentations or making announcements.

As discussed above a child with expressive language disorder often has difficulty in expressing their thoughts by speaking or writing. When someone talks to them they do understand the person, but they cannot access the words to express themselves ( like leaving out words, difficulty in thinking the correct word, mixing up tenses, and putting the words in the wrong order in a sentence). A child often ends up feeling frustrated and having low confidence fearing judgment, they avoid talking altogether. They often avoid socializing or making friends, hence they may come off as distant and withdrawn.

Role of a speech therapist in the treatment and diagnosis of expressive language disorder

A speech therapist helps to evaluate and treat the difficulties your child faces due to expressive language disorder. The speech therapist may interact with the child and ask for clips of the child using language while playing games, telling stories, or when they are in their element. They may ask the child to name the thing in their immediate surroundings. The specialist will interview parents, caregivers, and teachers as it gives a genuine insight into the nature of the language disorder the child has. The speech therapist will also refer you to an audiologist to rule out hearing loss as an underlying cause of the condition.

A language disorder can be diagnosed at any age. Since it is a developmental disorder, the child starts presenting the symptoms at an early age. In order to decrease the impact developmental expressive language disorder can have on your child's life ahead it is always the best idea to get a timely evaluation done.


As per the requirements of the child, a speech therapist will create a tailored plan for the child. The treatment goals can range from helping your child develop vocabulary and sentence complexities to helping them learn how to express their needs and ideas. The goals of speech therapy may entail teaching the child new words, naming objects, educating parents regarding the condition of their child, and helping the parents learn how they can help the child develop communication skills at home via various aids like picture cards or technology.

A speech therapist can help you to understand your child's expressive communication issues and provide practical solutions. Therapy can be quite helpful for your child in learning how to express themselves, and improving their self-esteem and social skills.

Few suggestions from our expert speech therapist to parents who are working on expressive language-building activities with their children at home!

  • Reading helps a lot! Make sure you take out time in the day and make it a routine to read to the child. Based on their skills, you can ask them to name the objects in the books, you can ask them to narrate what might happen next in the story, and if possible let them read.

  • Interact with the child, and allow them to speak without interrupting them. You can motivate the child to speak by using phrases like ‘ yeah, what happened next, or that sounds interesting’.

  • Don’t call them out bluntly for their mistakes, if they make a mistake in saying something, kindly correct them by repeating the correct sentence rather than saying you are wrong. For instance, if they say ‘ I went to school’ you say ‘yes you went to the school’.

Sounderic provides online speech therapy sessions for children with various communication disorders. We would love to help you. Get in touch with us on WhatsApp at +919644466635 or schedule a consultation with us at

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