How To Help And Treat Children With Language Disorder?

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Language disorders are communication disorders characterized by trouble understanding and speaking a language. A child with a language disorder may struggle with written or verbal language or both (1). Language disorders are most often diagnosed between ages three and five, and about one in 20 children exhibit its symptoms (2) (3).

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), parents, caregivers, and teachers collectively help treat children with language disorders. Read this post to learn about the types, causes, symptoms, and management of language disorders in children.

Causes And Risk Factors Of Language Disorders In Children

The exact cause of language disorders is unknown. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the following are some of the possible causes and risk factors for language disorders in children (3) (4):

  • Stroke
  • A family history of language disorders
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Thinking disabilities
  • Autism
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
  • Stroke
  • Brain tumors
  • Poor nutrition

Types And Symptoms Of Language Disorders

Language disorders are classified into two based on the symptoms (3)(4):

  1. Receptive language disorder: Children with receptive language disorder have problems understanding the meanings of words they hear and read in books or on signboards, leading to problems at school.

Children with receptive language disorder may have trouble

  • Having conversations
  • Inferring gestures, such as nodding and shrugging
  • Understanding concepts
  • Deciphering what they read
  • Memorizing new words
  • Answering questions
  • Following directions
  • Pointing to objects or pictures
  • Taking turns while talking to people
  1. Expressive language disorder : Children with expressive language disorder have trouble talking and often cannot convey their thoughts and feelings though they may understand what is being said. Children who know sign language can also have problems expressing themselves.

Children with expressive language disorders may have trouble

  • Using words and forming sentences correctly
  • Expressing their feelings and thoughts
  • Narrating stories  and reciting rhymes, poems, and songs
  • Showing gestures
  • Naming objects
  • Using pronouns correctly
  • Initiating and continuing a conversation
  • Altering the tone and language while talking to different people and at different places

Some children have trouble understanding and talking or may have trouble with the following while reading and writing:

  • Holding a book up correctly
  • Looking at pictures
  • Turning the pages
  • Telling a story with a proper structure
  • Identifying letters and numbers

Complications Of Language Disorders

Children with language disorders may experience the following complications (1) (2):

  • Problems with social interaction, which may result in depression and social anxiety
  • Difficulty functioning independently

Signs You Need To See A Doctor

Call your child’s pediatrician if you notice (3)

  • New symptoms
  • Symptoms that are persistent or worsen
  • Language delays

In addition, contact a doctor if you notice one or more of these symptoms (2):

  • At 15 months, the child does not look or point at five people or objects when named by a caregiver or use at least three words.
  • At 18 months, the child cannot follow simple instructions or say simple words such as “mama” or “dada.”
  • At 24 months, the child cannot point to a body part or picture or use 25 words.
  • At 30 months, the child cannot respond by nodding or shaking their head, asking questions, or using two-word phrases.
  • At 36 months, the child cannot follow two-step directions, understand action words, ask for items by name, repeat questions spoken by others, and use complete sentences. Further, their language has worsened, and they have a vocabulary of fewer than 200 words.
  • At 48 months, the child uses words incorrectly.

Diagnosing Language Disorders In Children

The pediatrician will ask about the child’s efficiency in using language and their health history. Your child may undergo a physical examination and hearing tests and be referred to an SLP.

The SLP will evaluate your child in a playgroup setting with other children or on a one-on-one basis. The SLP will evaluate the child’s (2):

  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Ability to follow directions
  • Capability to name different things
  • Ability to repeat various phrases and rhymes
  • Performance in other language-related activities

The doctor will also run an audiometry exam (hearing test) to rule out deafness, one of the most common causes of language problems.

Treatment For Language Disorders In Children

Your child’s SLP may recommend the following age-appropriate approaches to help manage language disorders (3).

  • Use books, toys, or pictures to help the child with language development.
  • Engage the child in craft and related activities.
  • Help the child practice framing and answering questions.

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can be introduced during speech-language therapy. It can help children with insufficient speech communicate smoothly and reduce their frustration when communicating. AAC may include the following tools 5:

  • Manual sign language and picture communication boards
  • Computerized devices with large vocabulary sets and speech output.

Helping Your Child With Language Disorder

Early intervention helps in getting a better outcome for children with language disorders. The SLP will design the child’s treatment and guide the caregivers and teachers on working with the child (3). Here are some ways you can help a child with a language disorder (4).

  • Have frequent conversations in the language you know most fluently and expose the child to new words and phrases
  • Read books to them every day and point out the words
  • Point to signboards in grocery stores, at school, or outside.
  • Listen and answer when your child talks.
  • Encourage them to ask questions.
  • Give them enough time to answer questions
  • Limit the time spent watching TV and using computers. Instead, spend more time talking and reading together.

Children with language disorders may feel different from others and experience frustration. If you notice signs of language disorders in your child, consult an SLP to help them navigate through the condition. The best outcomes are seen when the treatment starts early.


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Dr. Dur Afshar Agha

Dr. Dur Afshar Agha is a consultant pediatrician with decades of experience in various medical facilities both in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. She has headed the Department of Preventive Pediatrics at the prestigious, Children’s Hospital and Institute of Child Health in Pakistan and is a life member of the Pakistan Paediatric Association. She has also completed her Post Graduate Program... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. Dr. Shah's deep interest in the well-being of babies and children... more