What’s language disorder?

People with language disorder have difficulty expressing themselves and understanding what others are saying. This is unrelated to hearing problems. Language disorder, formerly known as receptive-expressive language disorder, is common in young children.

It occurs in 10 to 15 percent of those under the age of 3 years old, according to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. By age 4, language ability is generally more stable and can be measured more accurately to determine whether or not a deficit exists.

Language disorder is often noticed in childhood first. Your child may overuse “um” and “uh” because they cannot recall the right word.

Other symptoms include:

  • reduced vocabulary in comparison to other children of the same age
  • limited ability to form sentences
  • impaired ability to use words and connect sentences to explain or describe something
  • reduced ability to have a conversation
  • leaving words out
  • saying words in the wrong order
  • repeating a question while thinking of an answer
  • confusing tenses (for example, using past tense instead of present)

Some of these symptoms are part of normal language development. However, your child may have a language disorder if several of these issues are persistent and don’t improve.

An equally important aspect of this disorder is having a hard time understanding others when they speak. This may translate into difficulty following directions at home and school.

According to American Family Physician, there may be a problem if your child is 18 months old and doesn’t follow one-step directions. An example of a one-step direction might be “pick up your toy.”

If, at 30 months, your child isn’t responding to questions verbally or with a nod or headshake, then it may be a sign of a language disorder.

Oftentimes, the cause of this disorder is unknown. Genetics and nutrition may play a role, but these explanations haven’t yet been proven.

Normal language development involves the ability to hear, see, comprehend, and retain information. This process may be delayed in some children, who eventually catch up with peers.

A delay in language development may be related to:

Sometimes, delayed language may accompany other developmental problems, such as:

Language disorder isn’t necessarily related to a lack of intelligence. Experts try to identify the cause when language development doesn’t happen naturally.

The disorder is often treated through the collective efforts of parents, teachers, speech-language pathologists, and other health professionals.

Medical exam

The first course of action is to visit your doctor for a full physical. This will help rule out or diagnose other conditions, such as a hearing problem or other sensory impairment.

Language therapy

The common treatment for language disorder is speech and language therapy. Treatment will depend on the age of your child and the cause and extent of the condition. For example, your child may participate in one-on-one treatment sessions with a speech-language therapist or attend group sessions. The speech-language therapist will diagnose and treat your child according to their deficits.

Early intervention often plays an important role in a successful outcome.

Home care options

Working with your child at home can help. Here are some tips:

  • Speak clearly, slowly, and concisely when asking your child a question.
  • Wait patiently as your child forms a response.
  • Keep the atmosphere relaxed to reduce anxiety.
  • Ask your child to put your instructions in their own words after giving an explanation or command.

Frequent contact with teachers is also important. Your child may be reserved in class and may not want to participate in activities that involve talking and sharing. Ask the teacher about class activities in advance to help prepare your child for upcoming discussions.

Psychological therapy

Having difficulty understanding and communicating with others can be frustrating and may trigger episodes of acting out. Counseling may be needed to address emotional or behavioral issues.

Effective communication is an important part of forming relationships at work, school, and in social settings. An unaddressed language disorder can cause long-term consequences, including depression or behavior problems in adulthood.

Preventing a language disorder is difficult, especially because the exact cause of the disorder is largely unknown. However, it’s possible to reduce the disorder’s impact by working closely with a speech-language pathologist. Seeing a counselor can also help in dealing with the emotional and mental health challenges that the disorder may cause. For information on organizations that provide help for language disorders, check out some resources here.