Learning Disabilities in Expressive Language

Expressive Language Disorder Assessment and Treatment

Students writing in a special education classroom
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If your child or loved one has been diagnosed with an expressive language disorder, what does this mean? What may cause these difficulties, how are they evaluated, and how can they be treated?


Expressive Language Disorder is a learning disability affecting communication of thoughts using spoken language and sometimes basic written language and expressive written language. Children with this disorder often understand language (in other words, they do not have a receptive language disability) but find it difficult to communicate as would be expected for their age either verbally or in writing.


Expressive language disorders involve difficulty with language processing centers of the brain.

These disorders can be the result of many causes, but often a direct cause is not obvious. They can be related to genetic conditions, damage to the cerebrum of the brain either in utero or later on or malnutrition. They may also be caused by brain injuries such as traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) or stroke.

Language processing disorders may play a role in both dyslexia and autism.


People with expressive language disorders may understand what is said to them or written in passages, but they have substantial difficulty communicating, which can range from very mild to severe.

They have difficulty with language processing and the connection between words and ideas they represent. Some people may also have problems with pronunciation of words.

Some students with expressive language disorders may also have difficulty with receptive language.

Children with expressive language disorder may appear quiet or answer with only a few words.

They often use the filler words such as "um" in response to a question or may simply repeat the question. Vocabulary tends to be reduced based on age and the number of words strung together is often fewer than other children of the same age.

Evaluation and Treatment

Evaluation can provide information to help educators develop effective strategies.

Typical strategies focus on language therapy to develop the important concepts necessary to communicate. Vocabulary development, rehearsal, and practice of using language in social situations are often helpful therapeutic methods.

Students with substantial communication disorders may require extensive specially designed instruction on their individualized education plans (IEPs).


It's important for everyone working with a child with an expressive language disorder—both at school and at home—to realize that the child is able to understand what is said around her as it is often not obvious from the words she uses or her written words. This can be extremely frustrating and can result in a number of emotions ranging from sadness to anger.

People with expressive language disorder may appear less capable than they really are because they cannot effectively express themselves.

Except in rare cases, their understanding of language and subjects in school is often as well-developed as that of other learners their age. In other words, expressive language disorders do not usually reflect anything about a child's intelligence.


Diagnostic writing and speech/language tests can be used to determine what specific types of language difficulty are affecting the learner's communication skills. Through observations, analyzing student work, cognitive assessment, and occupational therapy evaluations, speech pathologists and teachers can develop individualized therapy and education programs that will help the student learn.


Since people with these disorders have trouble communicating their inner experience, it can be very frustrating, and having an expressive language disorder can result in further problems such as a decrease in self-esteem and social isolation.

Caring for a child with these disorders should be multifaceted, addressing not only language development, but these other issues as well. Counseling may be very helpful as a child copes with the social issues related to her disability. Other measures oriented towards increasing a child's self-esteem are also very important.

What to Do Next

If you believe your child has an expressive language disorder and may have a learning disability that requires special education, contact your school principal or counselor for information on how to request an assessment. For students in college and vocational programs, their school's advising office can assist with finding resources to help ensure their success. Students with expressive language deficits and other learning disabilities will need to develop self-advocacy skills.

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Article Sources
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