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Expressive Language Disorder

What is an expressive language disorder?

Expressive language disorder is a lifelong condition that impacts the ability to use language. People with this language disorder understand what others are saying. But they have a hard time expressing their own ideas when they speak. Expressive language disorder isn’t a speech disorder. It doesn’t affect how people pronounce words. It’s also not a problem with intelligence.

Expressive language disorder is a problem with communication. It makes it hard for people to share their thoughts or ideas, or show they understand what others are saying. This happens in all settings — at school, at work, and anywhere else people interact. People with expressive language disorder often struggle to form sentences that make sense. They may need extra time to answer questions or take a turn in a conversation. These challenges can make it hard to connect with people, make friends, and form relationships.

Signs usually show up in early childhood, but kids don’t outgrow expressive language disorder. The challenges continue into adulthood. Having this learning difference doesn’t mean people aren’t smart. They just struggle with certain language skills. 

Here are some signs of expressive language disorder at different ages.

Signs of expressive language disorder in preschool

  • Begins speaking late compared to other kids the same age
  • Leaves out words
  • Has lower than average vocabulary
  • Uses gestures to help get points across with others
  • Has trouble with early language skills like rhyming

Signs of expressive language disorder in grade school

  • Uses vague words like thing or stuff when speaking 
  • Struggles to remember words
  • Has trouble using words correctly
  • Doesn’t talk much, seems withdrawn
  • Says things like “uh” and “huh” to stall for time when struggling for words

Signs of expressive language disorder in middle school

  • Avoids interacting with teachers and peers
  • Has a limited vocabulary compared to kids the same age
  • Pauses or gives short and simple answers to complex questions 
  • Jumbles tenses and drops words

Signs of expressive language disorder in high school

  • Doesn’t tell stories in a logical way
  • Leaves out pronouns and verbs in writing assignments 
  • Avoids social interactions
  • Doesn’t join in group conversations

Signs of expressive language disorder in adulthood 

  • Struggles to make small talk at work, doesn’t interact much with colleagues
  • Uses short, simple sentences and phrases
  • Uses the same phrases over and over
  • May have difficulty giving presentations

Possible causes of expressive language disorder

There’s no one cause of expressive language disorder. Genetics may play a role since language difficulties tend to run in families. The trouble with expressive language is sometimes related to autism. And it can be the result of problems in pregnancy and birth, and of brain injury or illness.

How expressive language disorder is diagnosed 

To be diagnosed with expressive language disorder, people have to be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. These specialists work in schools, in clinics, and in private practice.

People can be diagnosed at any age. But since expressive language disorder is developmental, the signs can appear at a very young age. The earlier it’s diagnosed, the sooner kids can get help to improve their language skills. Speech-language therapy can improve language skills, especially if treatment starts at a young age. 

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