What Are the Signs of Expressive Language Disorder?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2018
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Patients with expressive language disorder can have trouble forming complex sentences, naming things around them, and expressing themselves in spoken and written communication, although their level of understanding is on par with peers. This is an example of a developmental delay, and symptoms can start appearing around two years of age, when a child's ability to express herself will start lagging behind children of the same age. There are treatments available for this condition, as well as coping techniques patients can use, and accommodations available for teachers and other people who may interact with the patient.

In cases of expressive language disorder, a patient has trouble communicating verbally. Many have word retrieval issues and may have memory impairments specific to vocabulary acquisition, where they cannot learn words or have difficulty learning about the different meanings of words. Patients may have difficulty articulating themselves, especially when trying to express complex thoughts or feelings. This specific language impairment does not interfere with the ability to understand language; patients can comprehend written and spoken communication fluently.


The first sign of an expressive language disorder is often that a child is unusually quiet. In the classroom, such students do not speak up and may have difficulty responding when called upon to answer questions. At home, instead of babbling and reflecting words, children remain more inwardly focused. The child will clearly understand communications, but cannot respond in kind. If a child is asked to do something like naming foods, he may hesitate or be unable to do so.

Accommodations for expressive language disorder can include using tools like communication boards and other non-verbal means of expression. A child may be able to communicate through drawing, dancing, or pointing at illustrated concepts at a very young age. Patience on the part of people around the patient is also helpful, to reduce pressure when he is asked to speak. Instructors may want to consider warning students ahead of time, such as before class, about questions they may ask, so the student has time to think about and formulate a response.

A speech-language pathologist can evaluate a child with expressive language disorder and determine the most appropriate treatment plan. It is possible to develop augmentative communication skills, using nonverbal means of communication, while also working with the patient on verbal expression. Patients usually have homework they need to work on, and need support from friends and families as they start to develop expressive language skills. It is important to remember that such patients understand everything said to or about them, and their lack of ability to communicate verbally does not mean they lag behind in other developmental areas.



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