What Are Language Disorders?

While speech disorders refer to the inability to produce sounds correctly, language disorders refer to difficulty communicating using speech, writing or gestures. We commonly see two main types of language disorders: receptive language disorder and expressive language disorder. Difficulty expressing meaning to others is referred to as an expressive language disorder while difficulty understanding other speakers is called a receptive language disorder. When you have difficulties with both expressing and understanding, the diagnosis is a mixed receptive-expressive language disorder.

Receptive Language Disorder

The ability to understand language and what it means are the building blocks of communication. The ability to communicate cannot be acquired without the capacity to understand language. Receptive language disorder means the person is struggling with understanding what is said to them. The symptoms can vary but, generally, problems with language comprehension usually begins before the age of four years.

As children acquire language skills, they typically understand spoken language before they can use language to express themselves. Children initially learn to understand basic and familiar vocabulary words such as: bottle, pacifier, and ball. This is commonly seen by their ability to point to these objects before they can say them. Furthermore, children initially learn to follow simple commands such as “sit down”, “give me”, and “wave bye-bye”, before they can repeat these directions independently.

As children grow and develop, common language disorders include difficulty in acquiring vocabulary words, reading comprehension, and understanding concepts such as figurative language and inferencing. Parents typically notice these challenges when their children have difficulty following and understanding a storyline or struggle academically. These challenges continue to effect students as they grow into adulthood and can impact them in professional, personal and social settings.

Expressive Language Disorder

When a person is having difficultly conveying or expressing information in speech, writing, sign language or gestures it is a distinct possibility that an underlying language disorder is present. Sometimes, an individual with a receptive language disorder also has an expressive language disorder, which means they have trouble using spoken language.

Developmental milestones are highly individualized, and some children may reach milestones later than their peers, but eventually they catch up. Growing up in a multilingual home or having limited exposure to language may impact overall language development. These children are commonly referred to as ‘late-talkers’. Children who continue to have difficulty expressing themselves, may be diagnosed with an expressive language disorder or another language impairment.

Individuals with expressive language disorder are usually below the average level in their ability to:

  • Put words and sentences together to express thoughts
  • Recall and remembering the names of words
  • Use language appropriately in a variety of settings with different people (for example, at home, in school, at work, with parents, peers and colleagues).

Examples of expressive language impairment include a seven-year-old child being unable to join sentences with words like ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘if’, or a fifteen-year-old who struggles with using appropriate vocabulary and constructing grammatically correct sentences.

Indicators of an expressive language disorder differ from one person to the next and depend on the individual’s age and the degree of the impairment. Common signs include:

  • Making grammatical errors, leaving off words (such as helper verbs) and using poor or incomplete sentence structure (for example, ‘He going school’ instead of ‘He’s going to school’ and ‘I sleep’ instead of ‘I’m going to sleep’)
  • Using noticeably fewer words and sentences than same-aged peers
  • Using shorter, simpler sentence construction than same-aged peers
  • Having a limited and more basic vocabulary than same-aged peers
  • Frequently having trouble finding the right word
  • Using non-specific vocabulary such as ‘like’ or ‘there’
  • Using the wrong words in sentences or confusing meaning in sentences
  • Relying on standard phrases and limited content in speech
  • Sounding hesitant when attempting to converse
  • Repeating (or ‘echoing’) a speaker’s words
  • Being unable to come to the point or talking in circles
  • Having problems with retelling a story or relaying information in an organized or cohesive way
  • Being unable to start or hold a conversation and not observing general rules of communicating with others
  • Having difficulty with oral and written work, school assignments and professional responsibilities

Language disorders are not limited to children nor is there always a medical reason behind the disorder.   A stroke can cause aphasia, an expressive language disorder in adults. Hearing loss or head injury may also be the cause. Down syndrome, diseases such as meningitis and toxins aka fetal alcohol syndrome may cause language disorders in children.

How Can Great Speech Help?

Whether there is a medical cause or not, clinical evidence has proven that treatment provided by speech-language pathologists is beneficial, particularly in children. The goal is to stimulate overall language development and teach language skills in an integrated contextual fashion so as to enhance everyday communication. The good news is that studies have shown that speech therapy not only improves communication skills but also leads to academic and social success and enhanced quality of life.

Treating language disorders is particularly well-suited to the telepractice model. Great Speech therapists are specially trained to diagnose and then increase communication through an individually tailored program that primes each client for success.

Please contact us to discuss how a licensed speech and language pathologist can help you improve your speech or language disorder.

“My daughter was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and despite years of  traditional speech therapy in school, was not showing progress. It was clear she needed tailored therapy to teach her social skills. After a few months with Great Speech, she is initiating conversation with friends.”

David M., Portland, Or