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What Is a Language Disorder?


Language refers to the social rules that determine how we organize words to form sentences and as well as when and in what situations those sentences are appropriate. Language disorders typically cause significant delays in the use and/or understanding of spoken or written words. Language should not be confused with speech. In fact, the difference between speech and language is that speech is the verbal means of communicating while language involves the application of words and sentences in a social context.  Childhood difficulty with language can take the form of a language delay, language disability, or language impairment.


Keep in mind that delay and disorder are two different terms. A language delay causes a child to develop language in the same way as other children, but later than expected. However, a language disorder causes a child to develop skills differently than his or her peers. Unlike delays, language disorders cannot be “grown out of,” and children typically require continued treatment to help them learn to speak and communicate like other children their age.

Two Types of Language Disorders


Language disorders typically fall into two classifications: receptive language disorders and expressive language disorders, though it’s possible for both to be present at the same time.

  • Receptive Language Disorders – When a child has trouble understanding others and comprehending the meaning behind written or spoken words, a receptive language disorder may be the cause. Receptive disorders typically become noticeable before age four.

  • Expressive Language Disorders – Difficulty sharing thoughts, expressing ideas, or communicating feelings is typical of an expressive language disorder. A child may be able to correctly produce sound and pronounce words, but the form, content, and function of their communication is incomprehensible.

Identifying a Language Disorder


Language disorders can be a source of frustration for children as well as their caregivers, which is why they are so often misdiagnosed as behavioral problems. A child may appear to be rebellious in the classroom when in fact he/she simply cannot understand the teacher’s request in the first place.

Identifying a language disorder requires some thoughtful and continued observation, as well as the help of a trained professional. If your child exhibits several or all of the following symptoms, he/she may be struggling with a language disorder:

  • Difficulty understanding questions or following directions

  • Difficulty making requests/demands

  • Create sentences with words in the wrong order or telling disjointed stories

  • Grammatical errors involving tense (goed/went), plurals (geeses/geese) and pronouns (her/his)

  • Limited vocabulary

  • Speak in short, staccato sentences

Causes of Language Disorders


Childhood language disorders may be the result of hearing loss, neurological disorders (such as Autism or Cerebral palsy), brain injury, mental retardation, Down syndrome, drug abuse, or other developmental delays. However, many language disorders are the result of an unidentifiable cause.

Treatment of Language Disorders


You may be surprised by how much our ability to communicate effectively impacts the quality of our lives. Left untreated, language disorders can have a negative ripple affect across many areas of your child’s life, impacting his/her ability to form friendships, reading and writing skills, and even influencing emotional development.


Early identification and treatment are crucial for all children with language disorders. Certified speech-language pathologists (SLP) specialize in the treatment of language disorders and at Use Your Words Speech Therapy we are dedicated to helping children learn to communicate with confidence. 

If your child is living with a language disorder, finding a quality speech-language pathologist is a top priority. At Use Your Words Speech Therapy, our SLPs are experienced in treating a variety of speech-language disorders and do so with unparalleled skill and compassion.

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