What Is a Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder?

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  • Written By: Stephany Seipel
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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Receptive-expressive language disorder is a disorder that affects a child's ability to express his or her thoughts to others as well as his or her ability to understand what other people are saying. Sometimes this disorder occurs due to a brain injury or a neurological problem, but it can also happen without any obvious reason. Although many children benefit from early intervention, some individuals will struggle with oral communication skills throughout their lives.

In 2011, between three and five percent of children suffered from expressive language disorder, receptive language disorder, or mixed receptive-expressive language disorder. Children with expressive language disorder had difficulty speaking or expressing themselves, while those with receptive language disorder struggled to understand others. Children with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder had problems listening and understanding.

This type of language problem is classified according to the causal factor. Acquired mixed receptive-expressive language disorder occurs when the brain suffers damage as the result of a serious head injury, stroke or other similar event. Developmental mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, which usually appears around the time a child learns to speak, does not always have an obvious cause.


Most children with receptive-expressive language disorder show signs of a language problem before they are four years old. They have difficulty expressing their wants and needs, and might not be able to recall words easily when speaking. Some children have problems using correct grammar or forming sentences that make sense. They might also have a hard time understanding what other people say.

Parents might notice that their child does not act like he or she understands when people are speaking, and the child might appear as if he or she does not want to follow directions or listen. The child might also use past or present tenses incorrectly, use simple sentences, or repeat only certain phrases when talking. An older child might have difficulty making friends. Some children also suffer from serious learning delays.

A neuropsychologist or speech therapist can diagnose receptive-expressive language disorder by performing specialized tests, including an auditory test to make sure the child can hear. The prognosis varies depending on the cause. Children who develop receptive-expressive language disorder as the result of a brain injury have a poor prognosis and might struggle with oral language skills throughout their lives. Early intervention and counseling can help other children cope with the behavioral and emotional issues that occur as the result of language problems, and can help them to communicate more effectively with others.


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