Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder: Treatment

Instructor: Allison Camps

Allison has taught in elementary school inclusion classrooms and has her master's degree in Special Education.

This lesson describes the symptoms of mixed receptive-expressive language disorder and explains the difference between developmental and acquired disorders. It also explores treatment plans and intervention tips for families and teachers.

What Is Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder?

Wow... that is long name for a disorder. So many words. What exactly is mixed receptive-expressive language disorder? Who does it affect? How can teachers support children with this disorder?

People with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder have trouble understanding what others are saying, as well as trouble expressing themselves. This disorder is mostly common in young children, where it's called developmental mixed receptive-expressive language disorder. Scientists and doctors aren't sure why some children have this developmental disorder. It's not necessarily related to hearing loss or speech disorders, although some children may have a physical handicap and also be diagnosed with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder.

Although this disorder is most commonly noticed in young children, if a child, adolescent or even an adult suffers a traumatic brain injury, they can have acquired mixed receptive-expressive language disorder. In both cases, the disorder results from mental difficulties associated processing and communicating information.


Children who have developmental mixed receptive-expressive language disorder are usually diagnosed if they are not reaching certain milestones related to talking. But many of the same symptoms can occur for children and adults who are in a severe car crash or other accident, have a stroke or seizure, or otherwise acquire the disorder. Each person with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder may have a different set of symptoms, but here are some of the most common:

Receptive (Listening) Difficulties

  • Trouble understanding what others say to them. (Often the lack of comprehension results in the student misbehaving.)
  • Does not follow stories or understand jokes.
  • Trouble following verbal directions. (Multi-step directions are extremely difficult for these individuals.)
  • Often has trouble understanding abstract nouns. (For example, identifying a character traits of the main character in the story is difficult.)

Expressive (Talking) Difficulties

  • Does not speak often.
  • May form very short (sometimes only two-word) sentences.
  • Repeats the same information, or uses the same phrases constantly.
  • Limited vocabulary compared to his/her peers.
  • Struggles to put words together to form a sentence. (Words are often out of order or don't make sense.)
  • Often struggles with word retrieval when talking. (Will often replace a word with 'um.')
  • Trouble using the correct verb tense (past, present or future).
  • Difficulty expressing basic wants and needs.

Pairing the receptive and the expressive difficulties together makes it frustrating for a child with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder to function in not only the classroom, but most areas of life.


Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder is often treated by a collaboration between parents, teachers, speech pathologists and doctors. The first step if you suspect a child has this disorder is to encourage the parents to contact the child's doctor. It is important to first rule out sensory issues or a hearing impairment.

Language Therapy

Language therapy is the most common treatment for this disorder. A speech and language pathologist (SLP) will develop a plan that is appropriate for the child's age and specific needs. Through books, games and role playing, the SLP will use repetition of words and phrases to help improve the child's comprehension and expression skills. This therapy can occur one-on-one or in a small group setting.

Family and Teacher Tips

Teachers, parents and siblings play a huge role in helping a child with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, as they spend the most time with the child. The SLP will often provide you with games and activities to play with the child. It is important to utilize these provided exercises. There are some general tips you can also implement in your daily interactions.

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