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What It's Like Having an Expressive Language Disorder

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One of the most frustrating and difficult aspects of learning disabilities is that they are  often accompanied by another condition including, ADHD or ADD, speech impairments, and seizure disorder. The coexisting condition I was diagnosed with was an expressive language disorder, which causes mild to severe difficulties in written and verbal expression. The disorder can lead to challenges and confusion in academic and social settings.

Whatever your coexisting disabilities are, I can understand your pain.

One of the hardest parts about having an expressive language disorder is that in your head you know how to express yourself, but you can’t put all of the required pieces together to make it happen. This type of challenge becomes frustrating and it can lead to emotional difficulties. Even the simplest question like, “How are you doing?” or “What do you want for lunch?” can be a major challenge.

And sometimes other challenges follow.

Writing the proper sentence structure and the correct use of vocabulary are some other challenges that occur often with expressive language disorder. For example, a person would write, “I basketball today,” instead of, “I played basketball today.” Sometimes a person is also not  able to write answers with enough detail, or they will write too much and go off topic thus not giving the correct answer. This leads to receiving lower grades because the person can’t produce the right answers despite knowing and understanding specific vocabulary. It’s challenging when a person knows the required steps, but struggles to demonstrate their knowledge.

Another challenge that could arise is difficulty expressing needs and feelings.  For example a child may say, “I am sad or angry,” but they won’t be able to explain why they feel that way. In these cases, it could make it extremely difficult to give these children the proper support that they need. For example, a child may be sad because they are getting made fun of, but they are  unable to express it to an adult. This makes each situation hard as their peers and teachers aren’t mind readers so getting the proper support is a struggle.

Misinterpretations also begin to happen with their teachers and peers. This is especially difficult when it takes place with their peers because they often lack understanding of your disability and may see you as untrustworthy. For example a peer may say, “No unfortunately you can’t borrow snack money from their locker,” but due to your processing difficulties you heard it as “yes.” So you take the money and as a result your friend interprets it as stealing and thus people may begin to question if you are a good friend.

Fortunately speech therapy is very effective in treating this disorder, and there are treatment programs that can focus on a person’s current situations. For younger kids, therapists often bring in toys such as puppets for children to practice conversation skills, and use children’s books to practice proper vocabulary and writing skills.  Therapists often allow students to work on their assignments in groups when they are older, as it increases conversation and listening skills while getting the academic support from the therapist. A therapist also uses the student’s specific curriculum for practicing vocabulary and writing proper sentences lessons. Counseling is also a common treatment as well. Through counseling, a student with the disorder can help gain the proper social and communication skills and learn to solve emotional concerns in a rational way. Both treatments can lead to successful outcomes with strong commitment levels from the student.

For me, the social and emotional challenges were the hardest to handle. I couldn’t express myself very well and thus would shut down completely. As a result many saw me as a rude and difficult person. It was especially challenging for my speech therapist because it was quite a process for me to learn how to effectively express myself to others. However, through my speech therapist’s understanding of my disorder and her high level of empathy, she had an easier time calming me down so I could learn the necessary skills she was trying to teach me. Another big challenge I faced was that I talked too long to the adults who were very supportive to me. For example, I would talk way too much to my cross-country coach and forgot he had other teammates to support. But with their support, I eventually learned how to cope with these challenges.

Living with a learning disability is difficult and combining it with expressive language disorder can increase the challenges, but please don’t get too scared. With hard work the success rates are very high since you do understand language. Yes it is a long journey to overcome the disorder, but I believe you can do it. It starts by being highly dedicated to the support plans that your speech therapist, resource room teacher and school counselor create for you. And when in doubt speak up, they understand your challenges and I am sure they are more than willing to help.

Photo credit: nensuria/Getty Images

Originally published: April 27, 2020
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