Does My Child Have an Expressive Language Disorder?

Does My Child Have an Expressive Language Disorder?


What is an Expressive Language Disorder?


Children begin to learn and express themselves as soon as they are born. Their ability to convey their wants, needs and thoughts through words, improves as they grow older.


Some toddlers and young children miss their language milestones by age three, but catch up later on. This is not necessarily a sign of a language disorder and a child may be a “late talker.”


Yet, if your child’s difficulty expressing themselves continues, they may be diagnosed with an expressive language problem. This type of disorder can lead to social issues at school, increase your child’s risk of developing academic difficulties, and lower self-esteem due to their difficulties.


Children with an expressive language disorder have difficulty verbalizing their thoughts and ideas. This might have a significant influence on their ability to make friends and engage with others.


Signs and Symptoms of an Expressive Language Disorder


Children that have difficulty expressing themselves well with language (not speech, read more about the difference here) may:


  • Have difficulty finding the right word and use fillers like um, this, that, stuff, things
  • Use the wrong verb tense in a sentence
  • Use incorrect pronouns (him/he, her/she, them/they)
  • Leave our pronouns or verbs in sentences
  • Have difficulty asking/answering questions
  • Repeat words when asked questions
  • Have difficulty learning songs
  • Use simple sentences that don’t increase in complexity as they get older
  • Use a limited vocabulary compared with other children their age
  • Speaks quietly or chooses not to speak
  • Has poor/incorrect grammar
  • Not initiating or joining conversations


Unfortunately, expressive language disorder may be undiagnosed early on. So we’ve included some more signs and symptoms at different stages:


Middle School Signs of Expressive Language Disorder


  • Avoids interactions with teachers and other kids
  • Vocabulary is limited in comparison to other kids their age (may be written as well)
  • Answers are short or very general
  • Use of verb tenses is incorrect

High School Signs of Expressive Language Disorder


  • Stories are not ordered in a logical sequence
  • Pronouns and/or verbs are left out when speaking or in writing assignments
  • Has limited social interactions
  • Avoids group conversations or oral presentations


Causes of Expressive Language Disorder


Expressive language disorder may be caused by a variety of factors. For example, language issues tend to run in families, and so genetics may play a role. There are other medical conditions that are linked with this disorder such as autism, or intellectual disability. Sometimes complications during pregnancy cause expressive language issues as well as brain damage or illness.


Unfortunately, there is not always a known cause. This does not mean that the symptoms cannot be treated and progress made.


What to Do if Your Child Needs Help


The first thing to do is to reach out to a speech therapist to request a screening of an evaluation. When a child starts to get help early, the outcomes are better.


Speech therapists are able to evaluate a child to know their strengths and weaknesses and then use strategies and activities that keep a child engaged while working on their language goals.


How Parents Can Help at Home


Parents can help their child improve expressive communication and speaking skills in a variety of ways. Here are some ideas to help your child. These activities will need to be modified depending on the child’s age and developmental level, and your speech therapist will be able to help make these modifications:


  • Talk about characters in a book or TV show. What do they feel and how do you know?
  • Talk about what happened in a movie you just watched together. What happened first, next, last? What was the best part?
  • Role play where your child wants to work. Help them think big by being a sportscaster, doctor or even the captain of a pirate ship!
  • Model correct use of a word when your child says it incorrectly and avoid telling them they were “wrong.”
  • If your child feels frustrated or ashamed when they cannot express their ideas, remind them that everyone struggles with something. Read them this book to get the point across.



Therapy Works Together – Online Speech Therapy for Children and Adults


We care about every child and adult achieving their speech, language and communication goals. You can start speech therapy online now with a certified speech language therapist. We’ll discuss your personal needs, develop an individualized treatment plan, and schedule affordable online therapy sessions online at your convenience.

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