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Expressive Language Disorder: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that between three and seven percent of school-children are thought to have a language disorder? In this lesson, we will discuss expressive language disorder, its symptoms, and how it is treated.

What is Expressive Language Disorder?

Tim is an eight-year-old who is having difficulty communicating with other people. Tim did not start speaking until after his second birthday and his sentences are often confusing. For example, Tim told his teacher ''I goed bathroom'' when what he really meant was ''I went to the bathroom''. Tim's vocabulary is much smaller than his friends and Tim struggles to learn the weekly vocabulary words his teacher assigns. Tim's schoolwork is usually full of grammatical errors and incomplete sentences, which has adversely affected his grades. With his teacher's recommendation, Tim is sent to see a speech pathologist who diagnoses Tim with expressive language disorder.

Expressive language disorder is a language impairment characterized by difficulty communicating with others using oral, written, or sign language. Expressive language disorder interferes with the ability to communicate your thoughts and feelings to others. It is important to note that neither the ability to understand what is being communicated to them nor the intelligence of people with expressive language disorder is impaired, people with expressive language disorder just struggle to communicate what they mean to other people.

• Expressive language disorder can be developmental or acquired. Developmental expressive language disorder is present during the time when children begin talking and has no known cause. This is in contrast to acquired expressive language disorder, the least common type of expressive language disorder, which is the result of brain damage. A stroke, brain tumor, or a traumatic brain injury can all cause acquired expressive language disorder. Expressive language disorder is also more common among boys than girls. Expressive language disorder can cause significant limitations in the ability to function socially, at work, or at school such as in Tim's case.

Symptoms of Expressive Language Disorder

Tim displayed many of the common symptoms of expressive language disorder, including speaking at a later age than normal, problems with grammar, omitting words in sentences, trouble using correct phrases or word tense, having a smaller vocabulary than same-aged peers, and difficulty learning new words.

It is important to note that the symptoms of expressive language disorder can range based on the child's age and the level of the severity of the impairment. As such, symptoms can greatly vary for each child. Common symptoms of expressive language disorder include:

  • Speaking/writing in short sentences than expected for your age
  • Impaired ability to recall what word to use when talking
  • Often using words that are not specific such as 'this' or 'stuff'
  • Trouble carrying conversations with others
  • Speech that is unorganized
  • Trouble with using complex sentences, i.e. inability to use 'and' to join two statements

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