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Expressive Language Disorder

What is expressive language disorder?

Expressive language disorder is a communication disorder. If your child has this disorder, he has a very hard time putting his thoughts and feelings into words. Your child can read and understand without a problem, but has a hard time expressing himself. Usually a child with this disorder is quite intelligent.

About half of the children with expressive language disorder are able to overcome it by the time they are in high school. Others may have lifelong problems.

What is the cause?

This disorder is related to problems with how the brain works. Expressive language disorder is more common in males than females.

The disorder may start after a head injury, a stroke, a brain infection such as meningitis, or other condition that affects the brain. It can happen at any age, but is not common in children.

A child may be born with the disorder. It is more likely if other people in your family have had this disorder.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Having a hard time finding the words to express themselves
  • Being unable to repeat words or sentences
  • Having trouble naming objects
  • Being able to form only certain types of sentences, such as questions
  • Having a hard time learning new words
  • Making errors in tense, such as saying "I walked to the store tomorrow"
  • Having trouble remembering words
  • Leaving out important parts of sentences

If you notice any symptoms of the disorder after an illness or injury that may have affected the brain, contact your healthcare provider right away.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your child may have a hearing test, or be referred to a psychologist for other tests.

How is it treated?

The most common treatment for this disorder combines language and speech therapy. There may be treatment centers in your community that help children with communication disorders. Many public schools have a speech therapist or tutor who works with children diagnosed with this disorder. The therapist may:

  • Model the correct way to say words and have your child repeat words and sentences
  • Speak the correct sound or syllable of a word for your child to repeat. Your child then practices how to make the sound with his mouth and tongue.
  • Teach your child breathing techniques and relaxation exercises to help relax his face and mouth muscles

If your child was injured, treatment depends on several things:

  • How badly the brain is injured
  • What part of the brain is affected
  • Your child’s age
  • The level of your child’s language skills before the illness or injury

How can I help my child?

  • Find out what services are offered through your school district to help children with expressive language disorder.
  • Your child’s therapists can help you learns ways to work with your child at home.
  • Children learn words and the rules for using them by listening to others talk. Therefore, what you say and how you say it is important. Talking is a natural part of many daily routines such as mealtime, bath time, and dressing. Encourage your child to ask for items, make choices, and answer questions. Encourage him to tell stories and share information.
  • Try to avoid putting pressure on your child. Do not say "You can't have it unless you say it first." Praise your child for his efforts and for any improvement, however small.
  • Look for your child’s strengths. No one knows what your child may be able to do in time, so don’t set your expectations too low. Encourage your child to try new things.
  • Be specific when you talk to your child. Tell your child in simple steps what you want him to do.
  • Be patient with your child. He may not be able to put his needs and feelings into words. Watch your child’s body language for signs that he is upset or that something is wrong.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-12-03
Last reviewed: 2014-11-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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