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Working Through Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder as a Child

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One of the more complicated speech impairments is receptive-expressive language disorder, where both verbal and written communication are affected ranging from mild to severe. The disorder can cause various challenges starting in early childhood. For example, following directions and playing effectively with peers can be difficult for a child with the disorder. But when treatment is started early, tremendous progress can be made.

Typically the disorder is caused by a developmental disorder, but Delaware Pediatrics states it can also be caused by medical conditions including a seizure disorder or other severe head or brain injury. Regardless what the cause is, it doesn’t mean you’re less intelligent.

As someone who has overcome speech difficulties, I know being underestimated hurts and delays progress. While those with this disorder have more challenges, they are still capable of learning important language skills like how to understand others, how to have a conversation, how to write clean sentences and how to acquire a strong vocabulary.

One of the complicated things about this disorder though, is that many of its identifying characteristics are similar to  other disorders. For example, the beginning years are often a struggle for children as their language skills are still being developed and they can become easily frustrated. So if a student speaks fairly clearly, which many with this impairment do, their demonstrated frustration may lead to them being labeled as autistic or emotionally disturbed. With receptive-expressive language disorder, the truth is it’s a challenge struggling to connect with others and using language properly which often triggers the frustrations.

As a child gets older, the disorder becomes more clear cut as their writing tends to still only display the use of only basic words and  learning new vocabulary is a challenge. Extra time with writing assignments and having vocabulary related to the reading ahead of time becomes necessary in order for the student to reach their full achievement levels. The conversation skill deficits become more and more noticeable too. A person with the disorder often leaves out words (especially verbs or pronouns) when having a conversation, so they don’t come across as clear which often confuses the receiver. All of these situations can be tricky and can lead to difficult situations for a student throughout the school day.

Social and communication skills are also challenges for those with the disorder, because sometimes they might respond inappropriately when having a conversation. They often miss the main point of the conservation taking place or the question being asked. Adding information that is completely off topic can also occur. For example someone could ask, “how was ice skating with your family yesterday?” and the person would answer, “we didn’t stop for ice cream for dessert.” The person with the disorder heard the word “ice,” but didn’t process it correctly. It’s even more frustrating when a student has difficulty following directions and processing details. It can even cause them to miss important events like the date and time of school picture day or what time their bus leaves.

In my history with expressive-receptive language disorder, I made careless errors in my writing. For example, I would mix up verb tenses or leave out a word even though in my head I knew what to write. Of course the hardest challenge I faced was expressing my thoughts to those around me accurately. This led to outbursts and other social-emotional difficulties. Thankfully my speech therapist who knew my family well, knew my outbursts were not who I typically was and that they were mostly a result of the obstacles I faced through my disability and not that I was trying to avoid these situations.

For those with receptive-expressive language disorder, the recommendation for treatment is speech therapy in both individual and group settings. As there are weaknesses in both aspects of language, individual therapy allows for extra instruction with vocabulary and writing and group therapy allows work on improving  social communication deficits. This allows a person to overcome weaknesses in a shorter time frame.

Counseling can also be a helpful treatment as these children have a higher risk for having anxiety or personal self-esteem issues, especially if their disorder is moderate to severe. Through counseling students can talk about their emotions, while also improving their overall language skills.

As you read this, remember like any speech and language impairment or learning disability through hard work and dedication there will be light at the end of the tunnel. While the support you receive from your speech therapist, teachers, and counselor may seem overwhelming, it can help lead you to discovering your true potential. You have a number of strengths and overcoming these challenges will allow you to focus more on them, rather than just seeing the receptive-expressive language difficulties. I know from experience that by always working hard with your support team you can achieve personal and academic successes.

Photo credit: Moore Media/Getty Images

Originally published: May 19, 2020
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