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Children develop language at different rates, but when skills are significantly behind age-expected levels this is called a language disorder. (For information on milestones expected at each age, see Developmental Milestones and "Red Flags".)


Some children have problems understanding, called receptive language. They may have trouble:

  • Understanding what people mean when they use gestures, like shrugging or nodding.

  • Following directions.

  • Answering questions.

  • Pointing to objects and pictures.

  • Knowing how to take turns when talking with others. 

Some children have problems talking, called expressive language. They may have trouble:

  • Asking questions. 

  • Naming objects.

  • Using gestures.

  • Putting words together into sentences.

  • Learning songs and rhymes.

  • Using correct pronouns, like "he" or "they".

  • Knowing how to start a conversation and keep it going.

  • Changing how they talk to different people and in different places

Many children have problems with both understanding and talking.


Some children also have trouble with early reading and writing, such as:

  • Holding a book right side up.

  • Looking at pictures in a book and turning pages.

  • Telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

  • Naming letters and numbers.

  • Learning the alphabet.

Learning a second language does not cause language problems.; children will have problems in both languages if they have a language disorder.


After conducting a detailed language assessment, the speech pathologist will create an individualized plan to target all needed areas. These may include:

  • Increasing understanding speech (e.g. following directions, understanding stories).

  • Improving expression of ideas (e.g. describing objects, answering questions, retelling events).

  • Teaching family and other team members strategies to support language development.

  • Developing other methods of communication as needed, such as simple gestures, picture boards, or computers that say words out loud (AAC).

  • Learning early reading and writing skills.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Spoken Language Disorders (Practice Portal). Retrieved Jan, 18th, 2023, from Child Speech and Language (

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