Language DIsorders

Children with language disorders have trouble understanding and talking. Children who have problems with oral language in the preschool years are at risk for having problems with written language (reading, spelling and writing).

Language disorders can involve:

  • Content (vocabulary and word meaning)
  • Form (sentence structure and grammar)
  • Use (ability to use language correctly)

A language disorder is also called specific language impairment or language processing disorder.

Patients can be seen by Texas Children's experts in Ear Nose and Throat (Otolaryngology) and Speech, Language and Learning.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes include:

  • Family history of language disorders
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth-weight
  • Hearing loss
  • Autism
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Syndromes (for example, Down syndrome or Fragile X syndrome)
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
  • Stroke
  • Brain injury
  • Tumors
  • Cerebral palsy

Often the cause of a language disorder is not known.

Risk factors:

  • Family history of language disorders
  • Difficulty talking in the preschool years

Symptoms & Types

The types of language disorders include:

  • Receptive
  • Expressive

Receptive language disorders occur when a child has problems understanding spoken and written words and gestures.

Symptoms of receptive language problems include difficulty with:

  • Following directions
  • Answering questions
  • Identifying objects and pictures
  • Taking turns when talking with others

Expressive language disorders occur when a child has problems speaking and writing.

Symptoms of expressive language problems include trouble with:

  • Asking questions
  • Naming objects
  • Putting words together into sentences
  • Learning songs and rhymes
  • Using correct pronouns
  • Knowing how to start a conversation and keep it going
  • Telling a story with a beginning, middle and end  

Some preschool children with language disorders also have trouble with speech sound awareness and reading and writing.

Diagnosis & Tests

The speech-language pathologist compares how your child does to that of children who are developing at the customary pace. This helps determine whether your child's language development is where it should be.

Tests include:

 Observing your child in play-based activities designed to evaluate how well your child can:

  • Follow directions
  • Name common objects and actions
  • Answer questions
  • Ask questions
  • Describe objects and actions
  • Make wants and needs known

Evaluating the child's language abilities concerning:

  • Content (vocabulary and word meaning)
  • Form (sentence structure and grammar)
  • Use (ability to use language appropriately in context)

 Evaluating ability concerning:

  • Playing with speech sounds (for example, rhyming)

Early reading and writing (for example, holding a book right side up, looking at pictures in a book, turning pages and learning the alphabet)

Treatment & Care

Preschool children with language disorders benefit from treatment to:

  • Improve ability to follow directions
  • Talk about and ask for things
  • Form sentences
  • Ask and answer questions
  • Describe pictures
  • Tell stories

A speech-language pathologist helps parents learn how to work with children at home in everyday activities.

Living & Managing

Treatment and care plans are designed to help your child understand language and talk better. Children with spoken or oral language disorders are at risk for having problems with reading, spelling and writing.

It is important that you work with your child at home on the prescribed exercises. With practice, your child's ability to read and speak well should improve.

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