An Overview of Receptive Language Disorders and Learning Disabilities

When Children Can't Understand Spoken Language

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Receptive language disorder is a type of learning disability affecting the ability to understand spoken, and sometimes written, language. Students with receptive language disorders often have difficulty with speech and organizing their thoughts, which creates problems in communicating verbally with others and in organizing their thoughts on paper.

Learning Disabilities in Receptive Language

A receptive language disorder is believed to involve differences in language processing centers of the brain. These disorders can result from inherited conditions or may be caused by brain injuries or stroke. Receptive language issues can also be a symptom of developmental disorders such as autism and Down syndrome.

Receptive Language Disabilities

People with receptive language disorder may have difficulty understanding spoken language, responding appropriately, or both. This leads to substantial difficulty communicating. 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 and speech/sound production.

Treatment of Receptive Language Disorders

Evaluation can provide information to help educators develop an effective individual education program. Typical strategies focus on language therapy to develop the important connections between letters, sounds, and words. Vocabulary development, rehearsal, and practice of using language in social situations may be helpful. In severe cases of receptive language problems, therapists may use multisensory techniques and whole language approaches.

Is Receptive Language Disorder a Learning Disability?

A receptive language disorder is not, itself, a learning disability. It can, however, cause children to fall behind in academics. If the disorder isn't easily or quickly resolved, the learning gap can expand. Thus, children with receptive language disorder may need special academic support even though they don't have an "official" learning disorder.

People with receptive language disorder may appear less capable than they really are because they do not effectively express themselves. However, in some cases, their understanding of language and subjects in school is often as well-developed as that of other learners their age. They may simply be unable to express that understanding.

In some cases, children will have difficulty with both expressive and receptive language. Expressive language is the ability to use spoken or written speech correctly, appropriately, and effectively. Issues with expressive language may have their basis in a variety of challenges ranging from neurological issues to muscle control to cognitive disabilities.

Sometimes, children with speech disorders continue to struggle with communication over time. Even when children with speech disorders "catch up" to their peers in terms of their communication skills, the increasing demands of school and social interaction may cause them to struggle.

Assessment of Receptive Language Disorder

If you believe you or your child has a receptive language disorder and may have a learning disability, contact your school principal or counselor for information on how to request an assessment. For younger students, language-based classrooms which involve speech therapists can be helpful; so too can standard speech therapy. For students in college and vocational programs, their school's advising office can assist with finding resources to help ensure their success.

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    Article Sources
    • Kaneshiro, N. et al. Language disorder in children. Medline Plus. Web. May 2016.
    • Rosenbaum, S., Ed. Overview of childhood speech and language disorders. National Academies Press (US); 2016 Apr 6.