Signs and symptoms of children struggling with receptive and expressive language.

Signs and Symptoms of Struggling Child with Receptive and Expressive Language

Receptive and Expressive Language

Have you ever watched as a baby develops language skills? Have you ever studied a language different from your native language? Have you ever stopped to think about how language develops? It can be quite interesting. Understanding how language skills develop helps us understand if our children need extra language development help.

Signs and symptoms of children struggling with receptive and expressive language.

Language has two types: receptive and expressive. Receptive language is understanding what is said to us. Expressive language is telling people what we want them to understand. Comparing individual children to other individual children will always create inequality and wonder if your child or your friend’s child is ahead.

For example, may parents tell me that my older brother did not start speaking in one or two words. Instead, he waited until he could form sentences and started with short sentences. My parents tell me that the moment I started talking, I never stopped. My brother’s receptive language developed much faster than his expressive language, however, his expressive language was highly developed once he began using it.

My oldest child began having temper tantrums at 12 months because he badly wanted to communicate so I could understand him. It was in his head (receptive – he understood), but he couldn’t get it out of his mouth (expressive). I began signing with him at 12 months. He began signing back at 14 months. By the time he was 18 months, he had 350 signs or more that he could use. Finally, his expressive language worked for him. He was as thrilled as I was. When he started verbalizing, it was fairly easy to understand him. He then began translating the baby talk of his younger brother who was born 10½ weeks prematurely.

Signs and symptoms of children struggling with receptive and expressive language.

As you can see, even in the same family, individuals vary. Every person that I just mentioned now uses language beautifully, clearly, and has fun with it. If we had panicked because each person began communicating differently, there might have been too much stress. If we had given up, perhaps my brother, I, and my children would also have given up.

How do you know if your child has extra challenges in receptive or expressive language? Parents of children working with us have identified a few things that showed their children were struggling.

Receptive Language Challenges:

  • Children will often say “huh” or “what” when parents are talking to them
  • They ask people to repeat what they just said as if they didn’t hear, yet when parents take them to the doctor their hearing is just fine.
  • Often parents need to look them in the eye and talk to them—in other words parents can’t yell to the children across the room and ask them to do something.
  • In the classroom, right after the teacher has given instructions, they are either at her desk saying, “What am I supposed to do again?” or they ask their peers what they are supposed to do.
  • They need constant repetition or clarification. Sometimes parents have to say things in a different way to help their children understand.
  • Sometimes these children can only follow one direction at a time
  • It can cut them off from relationships with others because they have a hard time following conversations.

Signs and symptoms of children struggling with receptive and expressive language.

Expressive Language Challenges:

  • Sometimes parents can tell what was received (receptive language) by what their child says
  • It also involves using vocabulary—putting words together to form complete thoughts
  • The expression of their voices when speaking doesn’t always match the words they’re using

At church, I work with children 18 months old to 3 years old while their parents attend worship services. Since beginning this series and researching more, I have noticed which children might have challenges in receptive or expressive language. For example, one child who is nearly three has wonderful understanding of what I say, but sometimes looks really confused when I ask him what he wants. For example, he has said, “I can’t do that” when he means, “I don’t want that.” I have tried to help him understand how to express the difference if he wants something or if he needs help doing something. There is another child who clearly understands everything said to him, but visibly struggles to communicate what he wants. I can see it in his face. He’ll get frustrated as he tries to express himself. He knows what he wants, but struggles to express it clearly. There is yet another child whose receptive and expressive language is so clear that I have wondered if she’s ahead of the curve.

Signs and symptoms of children struggling with receptive and expressive language.

Remember, you know your child best. Just because a child struggles doesn’t mean that child can’t catch up or get help. It doesn’t even always mean a child needs help – maybe your child just needs a little more time. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help for your child. If you think your child struggles with receptive or expressive language, see the advice of a professional. There are many things professionals know that can help you to help your child language challenges. Your child will thank you for the help when he or she is older. Your child will be happy that he or she understands clearly and can help you understand what your child wants or needs.

Signs and symptoms of children struggling with receptive and expressive language. ilslearningcorner.com #speechdelays


Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs

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