What is expressive language disorder?

Developmental expressive language disorder is a condition in which a child has lower than normal ability in vocabulary, saying complex sentences, and remembering words. However, a child with this disorder may have the normal language skills needed to understand verbal or written communication.

What causes expressive language disorder?

For many cases, the cause of expressive language disorder is not known. For others, the expressive language disorder is associated with known developmental difficulties or impairments.

Expressive language disorder can be developmental or acquired. Acquired occurs after a period of normal development; it can be the result of trauma or a medical condition. Research suggests that in some cases expressive language disorder is a genetic disorder (found frequently in more than one family member and across generations).

Signs and symptoms of expressive language disorder

Some of the signs and symptoms of expressive language disorder:

  • Frequently having trouble finding the right word
  • Having a limited and basic vocabulary
  • Using non-specific vocabulary such as ‘this’ or ‘thing’
  • Using the wrong words in sentences or confusing meaning in sentences
  • >Making grammatical mistakes, leaving off words (such as helper verbs) and using poor sentence structure
  • Relying on short, simple sentence construction
  • Using noticeably less words and sentences than children of a similar age
  • Relying on stock standard phrases and limited content in speech
  • Repeating (or ‘echoing’) a speaker’s utterance
  • Inability to ‘come to the point’ or talking in circles
  • Problems with retelling a story or relaying information
  • Inability to start or hold a conversation
  • Difficulty with oral and written work and school assignments in older children.
  • Difficulty putting words into sentences and in the right order
  • Difficulty finding the right word and uses placeholder words like “uh” as they mentally search for it
  • Leaving words out of sentences
  • Mixing up word tense
  • Vocabulary level is lower than what is age appropriate
  • Repeating phrases or parts of sentences

Treatment for expressive language disorder

Language therapy

Children need to be able to develop language skills meaning they need to receive, understand, and retain information. Speech therapy focuses on testing and strengthening these skills and helping your child increase their vocabulary. A speech therapist can use word repetition, images, tailored reading materials, and other tools to help nurture your child’s communication skills.


Children who have difficulty expressing themselves may feel frustrated and socially isolated. Your child might get into fights because they can’t find the right words during an argument. Counseling can teach your child how to cope if they become frustrated by their communication difficulties.

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