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Receptive 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.

Read this lesson to learn all about receptive language disorder. We will define receptive language disorder, its symptoms, causes, and how it is treated.

What is Receptive Language Disorder?

Molly is a first grade teacher who is concerned about Sam, one of her students. Sam does not pay attention during story time. Sam is unable to carry on meaningful conversations with Molly and his classmates. At times, it seems as if Sam cannot understand what the others are saying to him. Sam does not follow verbal instructions well and struggles to answer questions correctly in class. Eventually, Sam is sent to see a speech-language pathologist, who diagnoses Sam with receptive language disorder.

Receptive language disorder is a language impairment characterized by difficulty understanding spoken language and, in some cases, written language as well. Receptive language disorder interferes with the ability to process and remember what you hear. Receptive language disorder can negatively impact your ability to function at work, in your social relationships, and at school, such as with Sam.

Despite the fact that receptive language disorder can impact your academic performance, receptive language disorder is not related to your level of intelligence. Sam is performing poorly in class because he cannot understand what is being said to him, not because he is less intelligent. In fact, Sam's intelligence testing results revealed that he has a higher level of intelligence than most of his classmates.

What Causes Receptive Language Disorder?

We are not entirely sure of the exact causes of receptive language disorder. However, there are certain factors that are thought to play a role in the development of receptive language disorder. Having a close relative with receptive language disorder is thought to increase the risk of having receptive language disorder. Environments that restrict or reduce the auditory language that you are exposed to is related to receptive language disorder. Another factor is developmental skills. A delay in a general area of development is thought to influence receptive language disorder. For example, a child with a general delay in development, such as learning to talk later than the rest of his peers, may go on to develop receptive language disorder. Likewise, a child who experienced a developmental delay in the age at which he learned how to walk may also develop receptive language disorder.

Receptive language disorder is linked to autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental disorders. Receptive language disorder can also develop as a result of brain damage. For example, receptive language disorder can appear after brain damage caused by a stroke or a brain tumor.

What are the Symptoms of Receptive Language Disorder?

The symptoms of receptive language disorder can vary greatly between children based on the severity of the impairment. Sam showed several symptoms of receptive language disorder, including trouble understanding spoken language, impaired ability to carry on conversations with others, trouble following instructions that are given verbally, and trouble responding to questions appropriately.

Additional symptoms associated with receptive language disorder include:

  • Difficulty organizing ideas, thoughts, and sentences
  • Trouble interpreting the meaning of phrases and idioms, i.e. 'beat around the bush'
  • Difficulty understanding the meaning of complex sentences
  • Impaired listening skills

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