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What Is A Language Disorder? - The Parish School Blog

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The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) defines a language disorder as an impairment in comprehension and/or use of a spoken, written, and/or other symbol system. The disorder may involve the form of language (grammar), the content of language (meaning) and/or the function of language in communication (pragmatics), in any combination.

But what does that really mean?

There are three main areas of language: expressive language, receptive language and pragmatic language.

  • Expressive language refers to what a child says.
  • Receptive language refers to the language a child understands.
  • Pragmatic language refers to the social use of language, or how a child uses language to relate to others and “function” in our world.

A child may exhibit an impairment in one, two or all three areas of language in any combination.

What does a Language Disorder look like?

A child with an expressive language disorder may demonstrate:

  • Limited expressive vocabulary
  • Shorter utterance/sentence length
  • Decreased variety of words used
    • Nouns, verbs, adverbs, pronouns
  • Grammatical errors
    • Difficulty with plurals, pronouns (using he for she, they, him or her), past tense verbs, deleting articles (the or a)
  • Difficulty with sentence structure
    • Produces sentences with words that are out of order
  • Difficulty structuring and retelling stories (in both written and oral form)

A child with a receptive language disorder may demonstrate difficulty with:

  • Understanding basic age-appropriate concepts
    • Big/little, dirty/clean, more/less, same/different, longer/longest
  • Following verbal commands
    • One-step for children ages 1-3 (sit down, get the ___, give me ____)
    • Multiple- step for children ages 4-8 (get your journal and write your name at the top)
  • Identifying categories
  • Answering yes/no questions
  • Asking and answering wh-questions
    • What, who, when, where, why
  • Answering questions about a story

A child with a pragmatic language disorder may demonstrate difficulty with:

  • Greetings
  • Using appropriate eye contact
  • Using language for a variety of functions
    • Commenting, making requests, asking questions, demanding, informing
  • Understanding non-verbal cues given by others
    • Facial expressions
    • Body language
  • Turn-taking in play and in conversation
  • Maintaining a topic in conversation
  • Engaging in interactive play with peers
  • Initiating interactions and communication with adults and peers

A child with a pragmatic language disorder may frequently:

  • Use repetitive phrases
  • Use memorized phrases or utterances inappropriately
  • Demonstrate echolalia (inappropriately repeating another person’s words/sounds or simply parroting a persons words with no communicative meaning)
  • Display limited interests or hyper focus on a preferred topic
  • Display limited play skills
    • Play with a limited number of toys
    • Play with toys in the same manner each time
    • Become upset when a play scheme is altered

Are a language disorder and speech disorder the same?

While both are considered to fall under the umbrella of a communication disorder, a language disorder is different from a speech disorder. A language disorder is an impairment of our understanding and use of language. A speech disorder is an impairment in our ability to physically produce language. Difficulty producing specific sounds, articulation disorders and stuttering are examples of speech disorders.


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