Language Disorders

Language consists of our speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. As children, we first develop our spoken language skills when we hear words, see gestures, and imitate facial expressions used by our parents. As children mature, they learn how to use these modeled words to say their wants, needs, thoughts, and ideas using facial expressions, different tones, and pitch in their voice.



When a child is unable to use words, gestures, or facial expressions to express their wants, needs, emotions, and ideas, this can be a result of a delay in their oral language skills affecting one or several domains of language.

  1. Articulation/phonology: speech sounds
  2. Semantics: vocabulary 
  3. Syntax: word order
  4. Grammar: rules of language
  5. Pragmatics: ability to apply these oral/listening skills in everyday life



A receptive language disorder is when a child has trouble understanding the meaning of words they hear and see.

A child with a receptive language disorder may have difficulty:

  • Understanding what people say
  • Understanding gestures
  • Understanding concepts and ideas
  • Understanding what he or she reads
  • Learning new words
  • Answering questions
  • Following directions  
  • Identifying objects



An expressive language disorder is when a child is having trouble using language. They may be able to understand what other people say but have difficulty putting their words together.

 A child with an expressive language disorder may struggle with:

  • Using words correctly
  • Expressing thoughts and ideas
  • Telling stories
  • Using gestures
  • Asking questions
  • Singing songs or reciting poems
  • Naming objects



Language disorders can have many possible causes. It is often a result of a medical condition or a disability.

  • Prematurity
  • Brain injury
  • Brain tumors
  • Neurodevelopmental: autism spectrum disorder 
  • Congenital conditions: Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, or cerebral palsy
  • Problems in pregnancy or birth (examples: prematurity, poor nutrition, fetal alcohol syndrome, early birth, or low birth weight may lead to language disorders)
  • Sometimes language disorders have a family history. In many cases, the causes are not known.

It’s important to know that learning more than one language does not cause language disorders in children. But a child with a language disorder will exhibit the same problems in all languages.



  • Comprehensive medical history: physical exams, hearing tests, diagnoses, etc. 
  • Evaluation of your child during different play interactions with the parent and the clinician.
  • Observe how your child:
    • Engages in simple play activities
    • Uses words or gestures to express their wants and needs
    • Uses their voice pitch to convey questions, excitement, and other emotional states
    • Follows a variety of directions
    • Answers/ask various types of questions: who, what, when, where, why and how
    • Uses facial expressions to convey various emotions
    • Understands various concepts: big/little, clean/dirty, up/down, over/under, in/out, etc. 
    • Responds behaviorally to different tasks as they increase in difficulty
    • Attends to tasks that are presented to them



Treating language disorders is a team effort and consists of parents, family members, caregivers, and teachers.

  • Language therapy will consist of a variety of language-learning facilitation strategies that will encourage your child to learn new concepts and words during structured/unstructured activities that are meaningful and appropriate to their age-level and interests. 
  • Use different approaches that engage all senses: hearing, seeing, touching, and movement to help your child learn new concepts.  
  • Reinforce to parents how to use these new words, concepts, and strategies at home in the child’s natural environment.
  • Simple activities such as reading and talking to your child to help them learn new words and encouraging them to ask/answer questions



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