Expressive Language Disorders

Expressive Language Disorders

What is Expressive Language Delay/Disorder?

Expressive language is often thought of as the language you verbally produce; however language is expressed through words, gestures, facial expressions and body language. An expressive language delay or disorder means that children have a hard time expressing themselves with speech and/or other forms of communication, such as sign language, gestures, or writing. With an expressive language disorder, children have age-appropriate receptive language skills, or the ability to understand language, but decreased ability to communicate their wants and needs, or express themselves.

What are some red flags or warning signs that my child may have an expressive language delay/disorder?

Some red flags or warning signs for expressive language delay/disorder may include:

  • Your child understands everything you tell them (e.g., follows simple directions, understands “yes/no” and “wh” questions), but has a difficult time putting words or sentences together
  • Your child may appear frustrated and point, gesture, or retrieve desired objects on his/her own in order to communicate or get his/her needs and wants met
  • Your child may use only sounds (e.g., grunting), single words, or short phrases or sentences
  • He/she may use a smaller vocabulary than other children his/her age, leave out words in sentences, or have difficulty with verb tense (e.g., past, present, future), describing items or events, or asking or answering questions. 

How is an expressive language delay/disorder evaluated?

An expressive language delay/disorder is evaluated by a speech-language pathologist who uses a variety of assessment tools. The evaluation is conducted to best fit the needs of your child, and often includes a combination of standardized measures (to formally compare skills to same-aged peers), informal measures (e.g., play-based, conversation, story retell), and parent- and/or client-interview. 

When I should seek help for concerns with my child's expressive language?

An expressive language delay/disorder can affect children a variety of ages, as young as 1-2 years old (e.g., babbling, environmental sounds, single words, word combinations) to elementary, middle, and high-school age (e.g., grammar, vocabulary, conversation skills), and beyond. You should seek help for concerns if you feel that your child is falling behind other children his/her age, appears frustrated, and/or is having difficulty in school. 

You can seek help by contacting your pediatrician, school team, early intervention (birth to 3), or a private therapy practice such as Midwest Speech Therapy. Our intake staff and clinical team are also available to answer questions - if you have concerns that you would like to discuss with a professional, please call the MWST clinic.

If my child has an expressive language delay/disorder, what would potential treatment look like?

If your child has an expressive language delay/disorder, treatment will focus on building his/her expressive communication. Therapy sessions will target the specific needs of your child, as therapy is often client-led. Depending on your child's age and skill level activities may be play-based, semi-structured or highly structured. 

Because expressive communication can come in a variety of forms (e.g., verbal language, sign language), therapy often trial a variety of strategies, such as simple sign language, incorporation of visuals, or alternative augmentative communication (AAC). AAC could range from simple gestures or signs, to a picture exchange communication system or static picture board to a high-tech AAC device with speech-generating capabilities (e.g., an iPad with a communication system installed). All of these strategies assist with building expressive language and functional communication skills.


Developmental norms for speech and language (ASHA): 

Stages of Typical Expressive Language Development: