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Receptive and Expressive Language

Language is what we use to communicate our thoughts, ideas, wants and needs.   When we listen, speak, read and write, we are using language in different forms.  Language is a rule-based system for the sounds we use; for how these sounds are put together to form words; for the meaning and multiple meanings of words (vocabulary); for the way words are put together to express a thought (grammar and syntax); and for using all these together in conversation. 

Children learn to use the rues of language over a period of time as they grow.  An infant babbles by producing vowels sounds (“oo” “ee” “aa”) and by combining vowel and consonants sounds (bababa, dadada).  Typically, by the time a child is eighteen months old, language has developed to include single words.  Even if only just a few words are used at this age, a child is able to understand much more.  Language comprehension develops at a quicker rate and a child understands (receptive language) more complex language than s/he is able to use (expressive language).  

After the age of two, having begun to learn the rules for combining words, a child will start putting two words together (“Daddy home” and “ball go”) and will continue to develop language by putting three words together (“Want more milk” and “Daddy go work”).  By the age of three and continuing throughout childhood, multi-word sentences are common and varied as a child uses sentences to talk about needs and wants for everyday life.  Progressing to adulthood, more rules of language are learned so that understanding language (receptive language) and using language (expressive language) happen at an increasingly complex level.

Language development may be interrupted along any stage of development.  Often, language disorders become evident as the child progresses in school.  A language disorder is a problem using age-appropriate language abilities when listening, speaking, reading or writing.  Both children and adults can have a language disorder.  Many language disorders have no identifiable cause while others can be the result of a medical problem.  

Early signs of a language disorder include difficulty learning songs and rhymes, problems following directions, reduced ability to identify/name objects and pictures, difficulty answering questions, struggling to put words together to make a sentence, confusing correct pronouns ("Him went to the store.") and reduced ability to tell a simple story.

Later signs of a language disorder are the reduced ability to organize and express thoughts clearly, struggling to use higher level thinking/reasoning skills, problems understanding questions or following directions, difficulty learning new vocabulary (sometimes using non-specific words such as “thing” or “stuff”), reduced ability understanding, remembering and retelling a story and difficulty following a classroom lecture.  Problems that make learning to read difficult (such as identifying the sounds that correspond to letters, reading fluency, reading comprehension and spelling) are also language-based difficulties that require the specific skills of Speech & Language Pathologist.  


Constance is a trainer of Thinking Maps and is trained in  Word Finding Assessment and Intervention (w word finding disorder is an expressive language disorder).  See Processing Disorders for more information.  See Literacy Skills/Reading and Writing for details regarding written language.

A comprehensive diagnostic evaluation is needed to identify specific language strengths and weaknesses and to develop an individualized intervention plan.  Constance has many years of experience assessing and treating language disorders.  She brings a wealth of knowledge and a keen understanding of language disorders to each client, whether a child or an adult.

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