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Language Disorders Explained (Symptoms, Causes, Treatments)

Updated: Feb 14, 2023



Not being able to communicate with your young child may be devastating. If they are unable to understand you or are unable to express themselves, it can even feel like a barrier between you.


If this is the case, you will need to understand the various language disorders aka language impairments. In this article, we will discuss the most common types of language disorders and their causes. We will also suggest some treatments that can help raise the communication barriers between you and your child.


How a Developmental Delay Can Affect Your Child


Every child develops differently. Some may reach developmental milestones quicker than others, while some may be left far behind. Being slow to hit a milestone in early childhood may not be a reason to panic. But if these delays happen continually or multiple times, it could be a sign your child has a developmental delay. Check out our checklist of normal developmental milestones.


Having a developmental delay occurs when a child is slow to hit milestones around language, thinking, social, or motor skills. As a result, the child may have trouble following instructions and learning how to read and spell. This can develop into learning disabilities for some children, which can cause them to suffer from related problems in adult life.


Children with learning disabilities have difficulty reading, spelling, and writing. They may also struggle with math and may lack social skills. These children are likely to experience things like performance anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, loss of motivation, or chronic fatigue. They may even act out in various ways to distract from their schooling challenges.


That is why it is very important to pay attention to developmental delays in your child.


Difference Between Speech and Language Delays:


Keep in mind that speech problems are not the same as language disorders and will be diagnosed and treated differently. Speech delays occur when a child isn’t saying as many words as other kids their age. For example, stuttering (a speech disorder) and phonological disorders (speech sound disorders) affect the way one’s speech comes across. Treating these issues will involve the child practicing sounds.


A language delay, on the other hand, occurs when the child has issues understanding others or expressing their thoughts. Their problems are fundamentally language-based, encompassing the areas of speaking, gesturing, signing, and writing.


If you can see any of these issues ahead of time, you may be able to find early intervention methods to cope with these challenges more quickly. In this article, we will focus on language delays and how they could indicate a possible language disorder.


The most common language disorders in children are receptive and expressive. It is also possible for a child to suffer from both disorders. Between 3-5% of young children have one or both of these disorders.


Receptive Language Disorder


When a child cannot understand what they hear or read, they may have a receptive language disorder, aka language comprehension deficit. This disorder typically develops before the child is three years old. Receptive language disorder can be either developmental or acquired. S


Symptoms:


Each child’s symptoms will vary. However, the most common symptoms of a receptive language disorder in children are:

  • Giving the impression they aren’t listening when you speak to them

  • Seem uninterested when books are read to them

  • Trouble understanding the meaning of words

  • Trouble understanding gestures

  • Trouble understanding complicated sentences

  • Has a hard time learning new words

  • Difficulty answering questions

  • Trouble identifying objects

  • Difficulty understanding concepts and ideas

  • Difficulty following long or complicated verbal instructions

Causes:


Sometimes the cause of receptive language disorder is not known. Or it can come from one or a combination of factors:

  • There is a family history of receptive language disorder

  • The child has little practice hearing language spoken in their daily life

  • Aphasia: This is an acquired language disorder that happened due to brain injury, infection, tumors, or a degenerative brain disorder. Those with aphasia will have difficulty with language formulation. There are many types of aphasia and will have different issues depending on what part of the brain was affected.

  • Developmental and cognitive disorders such as autism spectrum disorder or Down syndrome

  • Hearing impairment or hearing loss

  • Vision impairment

  • Attention disorders

If the child has a language disorder that does not seem to be caused by a physical disability, intellectual disability, or environmental factors, this may be considered a developmental language disorder (DLD). This term is used interchangeably with specific language impairment (SLI), language delay, expressive-receptive language disorder, or developmental dysphasia.


DLD will typically run in the family and commonly occurs with other diagnoses like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other learning disorders.


Treatment Options:


To help your child overcome receptive language disorder, consider treatment options like:


  • Speech-language therapy: Speech-language therapy can be done on a one-on-one basis or in a group format, depending on what your child needs. For speech therapy, especially to aid in articulation, it can be more effective to get sessions with a language therapist on an individual basis.

  • Home exercises: There are exercises that caregivers can do at home to encourage language growth in your child. Practice naming items together, explain new concepts in different ways, play Simon says, or put together an obstacle course. You can also play the feely bag game with an emphasis on guessing the item, describing its characteristics, and answering questions about it. Look at picture books with your child, ask them questions about the pictures, and help them guess what might happen next.

  • Language intervention programs: These are typically school-based programs that can focus on auditory skills as well as other language issues.

  • Special education classes: In the US, if a child has a confirmed diagnosis of a speech and language disorder, they are eligible for special education classes. This is provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

  • Teacher’s aide support: Those with severe impairment can benefit from the support of a teacher’s aide.

  • Psychologist: If the child exhibits behavioral problems, it can be beneficial to schedule an appointment with a licensed child psychologist to help resolve these issues.

How well your child progresses depends on a variety of factors; no child is the same after all. Keep in mind that some setbacks like brain injuries can be particularly debilitating. A person affected by them may never get back to what is considered normal functioning.





Expressive Language Disorder


When a child has trouble speaking, writing, and expressing their thoughts and feelings, they may have an expressive language disorder. The child may have no issue comprehending language but are still unable to express themselves at the level of others their age.


This includes problems with vocabulary, expressing complex sentences, and word recall, and they could have some articulation issues. But keep in mind that expressive language disorder isn’t a speech disorder, though it may be confused as one. Expressive language disorder can be either developmental or acquired.


Symptoms:


As we’ve mentioned above, a child with a receptive language disorder may also have an expressive language disorder. Or they may only suffer from one or the other. The symptoms of expressive language disorder are as follows:

  • Difficulty finding the right word or using the wrong words

  • Grammar mistakes

  • Using short, simple sentences

  • Mixing up past, present, and future tenses

  • Struggling to add new vocabulary words

  • Have trouble being clear with what they want to say

  • Have trouble conveying a story or relaying information

  • Difficulty starting or holding conversations

  • Difficulty using gestures

  • Have trouble asking questions

  • Difficulty singing songs


Causes:


As previously mentioned with receptive language disorders, expressive language disorders may not have an apparent cause. But it may also be caused by either one or more of the following:

  • Autism

  • Down syndrome

  • Hearing issues

  • Developmental issues beginning from birth

  • Aphasia

  • Medical issues

  • Family history

If the child has a language disorder that does not seem to be caused by a physical disability, intellectual disability, or environmental factors, this may be considered a developmental language disorder (DLD). This term is used interchangeably with specific language impairment (SLI), language delay, expressive-receptive language disorder, or developmental dysphasia.


DLD will typically run in the family and commonly occurs with other diagnoses like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other learning disorders.


Treatment options:


The type of treatment that is best for your child depends on how serious their condition is. Some options include:

  • Speech pathologist sessions: These can be either group or individual therapy sessions. In a session, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can use playful methods to relax your child and enable them to open up and communicate. These methods could include toys, books, objects, or pictures that can help with language skills and language development. They may also have activities to do or can practice asking and answering questions with your child.

  • Language intervention programs: These are typically school-based programs that can focus on auditory skills as well as other language issues.

  • Special education classes: In the US, if a child has a confirmed diagnosis of a speech and language disorder, they are eligible for special education classes. This is provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

  • Teacher’s aide support: Those with severe impairment can benefit from the support of a teacher’s aide.

  • Home exercises: You too can make a difference in treating your child’s expressive language difficulties. Set aside time every time to read with your child. Reading a book with little to no text is a great way to get a child talking. Ask your child to tell a story about each picture. If this feels difficult for him or her, prompt him by asking questions or making observations about the pictures. Then ask what will happen next, and elaborate on what he or she comes up with.

Help your child expand their communication skills by encouraging various ways of saying things. For example, you could come up with wacky or nonsensical ways to say things to get your child’s brain patterns going in different directions. This will encourage a different response from them, and hopefully more forms of expression.


Get a Proper Diagnosis


Although this article may be a good resource for learning about language disorders, it is imperative to get your child a proper diagnosis. If you notice any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned for receptive or expressive language disorders, talk with your child’s pediatrician or school staff.


Communication disorders can be very complicated, so getting an informed opinion from your healthcare provider is the best way to go. He or she will look at your child’s health history, and ask about your child’s language habits. There may even be a physical exam or hearing test. Besides a diagnosis, your child’s healthcare provider will have information on helpful resources and can give you a referral to professionals specializing in speech-language pathology.


Make sure your speech-language pathologist (SLP) is ASHA certified. The American speech-language-hearing association grants the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) to those candidates who meet the specific requirements. These certified professionals must adhere to the ASHA Code of Ethics, which holds the highest integrity standards and ethical principles in the industry.


An SLP is an expert in language disorders in children. They work in private practices, doctors’ offices, hospitals, schools, colleges, and rehab centers. We also have certified SLPs available with free therapy services through our foundation. Check for locations near you.


Making a Difference


Receptive language disorder occurs when a child cannot understand what they hear or read. Expressive language disorder occurs when a child has trouble speaking, writing, and expressing their thoughts and feelings. It is also possible for your child to suffer from both disorders.


The causes of these disorders vary and sometimes are completely unknown. Regardless of the cause, some treatments can help lessen the effects of this disorder. Here at RiteCare Childhood Language Centers of California, we hope to make a difference in your child’s language disorder.



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