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What Is Receptive Language Disorder?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A receptive language disorder interferes with an individual’s ability to understand spoken language. This usually begins in early childhood. The condition frequently presents with concurrent difficulties of using language for expression, in which case it is called a mixed receptive-expressive language disorder. Symptoms may be noticeable by the time children are four or five, and several standardized tests can measure if an individual’s receptive or expressive language skills are well below normal. Diagnosis should be followed with extensive speech therapy and, often, psychotherapeutic care.

If a child only has a receptive language disorder, his or her symptoms could include difficulties following directions. Additionally, the affected child’s thoughts may appear to be disorganized and fail to follow a logical pattern. Children with this condition also show repeated difficulties in understanding others, and they may appear to ignore conversations, fail to heed speakers, or they could look confused when people talk to them.

In mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, additional symptoms can occur. Children may be unable to find the right word, improperly construct sentences, or repeatedly use the wrong tense. Speech can be filled with words like “um” and “uh,” and communications may be short and lacking in age-appropriate vocabulary. Any form of receptive language disorder can be mistaken as retardation or a lower IQ, but kids with these conditions usually have normal intelligence.

While such intelligence can help children with receptive language disorder work steadily in speech therapy or develop skills in academics, there is no hiding the fact that communication disorders create difficulties in social interaction and growth. They may prevent kids from playing with peers or sometimes they cause ostracization or embarrassment. Conditions that affect communication are known for creating emotional pain, and prompt psychotherapeutic intervention is recommended to reduce this.

In places like the United States, programs like the Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) can be contacted any time after a child is two years old to evaluate for speech or other learning challenges. Generally, a receptive language disorder isn’t identified until children are four. At this point, SELPA, agencies belonging to other regions, or psychologists and other certified professionals could begin testing and observation that will identify these or other challenges.

Should a receptive language disorder be diagnosed, children typically have extensive speech therapy. Psychotherapy can be helpful, too, to address any social problems or work on developing social skills. Though many patients positively respond to treatment, they are likely to remain challenged by this condition for life. Medical professionals acknowledge the frustration of not being able to provide a cure or to explain how this condition is caused.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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