Expressive Language Disorder vs. Receptive Language Disorder


Learning the difference between an expressive language disorder and a receptive language disorder is key to getting your child the right kind of support.


Does your child struggle to understand what’s said to them? Does your child struggle to find the right words to speak and create sentences? Both?


Identifying unique weaknesses in your child’s communication impairment will help inform his or her IEP or 504 plan.


Understanding Receptive Language Disorder


Receptive language disorder is a difficulty with the ability to understand language. These children often have a hard time following directions and understanding question structures (who, what, why, when, where). For example, when you ask a child with a receptive language disorder, “Who is your teacher”?, they might answer, “At school.” They may understand that you are asking about a certain subject. But, they are unable to answer specific questions or may confuse the various question forms.


Receptive language difficulties often result in poor social interactions. These children often have difficulty maintaining a topic of conversation and or taking turns when chatting with peers and teachers.


Understanding Expressive Language Disorder


Students with expressive language disorder struggle to use spoken words. These students might compensate with gesturing or pointing to communicate. Vocabulary is usually limited. Because of this, the child will resort to using non-specific words or canned phrases.


These students will have difficulty retelling an event, describing and defining things, and providing details. Students often don’t use correct verb tense or plural forms of words. They are also likely to skip “helper” words like “is”, “the” and “a” when they speak.

Expressive Language Disorder and Receptive Language Disorder

Expressive Language Disorder and Receptive Language Disorder

What Happens When My Child Has Both?


When students exhibit characteristics of both receptive language disorder and expressive language disorder, they are considered to have a global (or mixed) language disorder. A child with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder is not able to communicate wants and needs as well as his or her same aged peers. Additionally, he or she will have an underdeveloped vocabulary compared to their classmates.


This child’s IEP must have accommodations for both expressive and receptive support. Although they are related, they are very unique challenges that need their own interventions.


What Do I Do Next?


Communication with the IEP or 504 Plan team at school is critical. Learn how to make the most out of your next meeting with ExceptionALLY. Log-in now for personalized recommendations and strategies – FREE for all parents.





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