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Language Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Language disorder signs, causes and treatments. Includes info on mixed receptive-expressive language disorders.

The term language disorder refers to a condition that involves problems processing linguistic information. Children with language impairments have issues that involve grammar, semantics, or other parts of language. They can make sounds and others can understand their speech, but they have problems getting others to understand their meaning or comprehending the meaning coming from others.

The majority of children develop language from birth by hearing, seeing, understanding, and remembering. These are all necessary for properly learning language. Some children, even though they have all the skills, cannot learn language normally. In other words, a child with a language disorder does not understand or articulate language at his or her expected grade level. (Does your child have difficulty with stuttering, social communication or a speech sound disorder? Read these articles.)

Signs and Symptoms of Language Disorders

Children with language disorders may have one or more of the symptoms, depending on the severity of the issues. Those with a receptive language disorder have problems understanding the meaning of both spoken and written language and they may have:

  • Difficulty understanding what other people say
  • Problems following spoken directions
  • Problems organizing thoughts

Children with expressive language disorder have issues using spoken or written language to get others to understand what they need or want. They may:

  • Have difficulty putting their words into sentences
  • Sentences may be short, simple with incorrect word order
  • Have problems finding the right words when speaking and use placeholders like "uh" or "um"
  • Have vocabulary below his or her expected grade level
  • Leave words out when talking
  • Use certain phrases repeatedly
  • Repeat parts or all of questions
  • Use word tenses improperly

Due to their communication issues, children with language disorders may have problems in social situations.

Some children have problems both expressing themselves and understanding what people say to them. They have one or more symptoms of each of the main two types of language disorders. This is called a mixed receptive-expressive language disorder.

Causes of Language Disorders

Experts don't understand the cause of developmental language disorders. Scientists continue to research and try to identify environmental and genetic factors that play a part in the development of these problems which typically manifest in childhood, but can occur at any age.

Acquired language disorders, however, are caused by brain damage sustained during a stroke, seizure, or other head injury. Aside from brain injury or head trauma, some other known causes of acquired language disorders are:

  • Hearing loss at an early age
  • Neurological disorders
  • Intellectual disability
  • Autism
  • Drug abuse

Whether developmental or acquired, language disorders cause children to have lower than expected performance in school. In a school setting, teachers give multi-step directions and expect students to read, write, and answer questions about assignments. This fast-paced environment with little individual instruction makes it very difficult for someone with a language disorder to learn and perform.

Treatment of Language Disorders

Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are critical in the treatment of language disorders. They educate parents and teachers by helping them identify problems early on. The SLP will work with the school to adapt the classroom so that the child has a better chance of succeeding. Depending on the severity of the language disorder, some of the strategies could include:

  • Individual reading and writing instruction
  • Accessible seating arrangements
  • Work on social skills development
  • Adjust teaching methods of the instructor
  • Technology assists for eliminating distractions

The SLP can also develop materials based on the mainstream classroom curriculum that will help the child comprehend lessons. He or she will also spend one-on-one time with the child in language therapy sessions. The SLP will also work with parents to help them incorporate spoken language into daily activities and play.

Most children with language disorders develop normal or almost normal communication skills by the time they reach high school. Sometimes, minor issues with expressive language will persist.

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next: What is Social (pragmatic) Communication Disorder?
~ all communication disorders articles
~ all neurodevelopmental disorders articles

Last Updated: 08 August 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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