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Receptive and Expressive language disorders

A child lying on bed with expressive language disorder

Does your child face difficulty in understanding others or expressing themselves?

One of the greatest joys for a parent is watching their child develop. It can be quite bothersome when the child faces difficulty with language whether it be spoken language or understanding language. Sometimes parents can delay seeking help in expectations that the child would eventually catch up. However, if language difficulties persist till school going age the child may face difficulty in academics and social development.

In this blog we aim to address two major language disorders: receptive and expressive language disorder with a goal to help you better understand the conditions and how you can help your child overcome them.

What is receptive language disorder?

Receptive language is a term used to define the understanding of language. It is the ability of a child to understand what others are saying to them. When a child develops language skills, they first develop receptive language. It includes understanding spoken, written, or gestural communication. A child with receptive language disorder often faces difficulty following directions or understanding written language, thereby, impacting the academic and social skills of the child.

A child with receptive language disorder often faces difficulties in following skills-

  • Understanding commands.

  • Comprehension difficulties.

  • Understanding the names of simple objects.

  • Answering complex questions.

  • Understanding sentences with complicated meanings.

  • Understanding jokes.

  • Taking turns during conversation.

  • Problems organizing their thoughts while reading or writing.

  • Understanding another person's perspective.

  • Not getting jokes.

A child with receptive language disorder is often perceived to be shy or withdrawn. He/ she might not respond to others, mostly because they couldn't understand what the person is saying if they have tuned out.

What is the cause of receptive language disorder?

There is no specific cause of receptive language disorder. However it can be associated with a few conditions mentioned below.

  • Hearing loss

  • Autism spectrum disorder

  • Genetic conditions like down syndrome.

  • Premature birth or low birth weight

  • Fragile X syndrome

  • Brain tumor

  • Birth injury

According to few researchers it can be associated with positive family history of language disorders.

How are receptive language disorders diagnosed and treated?

If you suspect your child has receptive language disorder you should consult a speech language pathologist/ speech therapist.

You can also consult your child's physician or pediatrician. A doctor often compares your child development as per the developmental milestones as per the age of the child. They may also ask regarding the past medical history of your child and suggest appropriate tests like hearing assessment and speech evaluation.

The speech therapist can evaluate the child based on the age. For instance, in a child of age 2 to 5 years the therapist may use various play based activities to evaluate the receptive language skills of the child. Whereas, in older children the therapist may ask the child to read various sentences and paragraphs. A speech therapist who is skilled in providing online therapy can also perform and online evaluation.

Speech therapy is the standard treatment for the condition. The earlier the child starts speech therapy the better. A speech therapist formulates a specific plan as per the requirements of the child. The sessions can vary as per the severity and the age of the child. Apart from helping the child, we also plan sessions with parents to help them understand the child's disorder and suggest them various activities they can perform with their children to help with speech development.

As per ASHA, almost 8% of children in the United States have language delays or disorders. Boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to have a communication disorder.

What is expressive language disorder?

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. 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.

A few common signs and symptoms of expressive language disorder are-

  • 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

When someone talks to them the child understands 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).

The underlying cause of expressive language disorder is same as receptive language disorder.

Diagnosis and treatment 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.


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.

If you want to schedule a consultation with us, WhatsApp us at +919644466635 or book a consultation at



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