The Difference Between Expressive and Receptive Language Disorders

The Difference Between Expressive and Receptive Language Disorders

Language disorders are just as individual as the people experiencing them.

That being said, they do broadly fall into two categories — expressive and receptive language disorders.

If you’re seeking support for your language disorder, or that of your child, it helps to understand these two terms and the differences between them.

Let us guide you through what the mean, how they differ and how to get the right help.

What’s an Expressive Language Disorder?

Simply put, someone with an expressive language disorder has difficulty getting their point across to other people. This includes expressing themselves verbally or through signs and gestures.

People with this condition can often understand what others say to them and can pronounce words. Their difficulty lies in making conversation.

This can present in a number of different ways:

Limited Vocabulary

A person with this condition may rely on general terms, like ‘that’ and ‘things’ rather than using specific names for everyday items. This indicates that they have a limited vocabulary, struggling to remember specific terms.

At school or in life, they may show a lack of creativity in their answers or comments. They may struggle to express their point in their own words. Children are often prone to repeating what the teacher has said.

Modulation and Intonation

Along with a limited vocabulary, their speech may also be lacking the natural variations in pitch and pace that give language meaning and interest.

They may also speak quietly due to being conscious of their difficulties, or resort to pointing and gesturing, rather than using words to communicate.

Relationship Difficulties

As relationships rely so much on spoken communication, people with an expressive language disorder may tend to be quiet and withdrawn, and struggle to bond with others.

Grammar Challenges

For those with an expressive language disorder, grammar can present a challenge, particularly with articles (a, an and the) and verbs. Using verb tenses may be a challenge, or they may be missed altogether.

As the child moves on to composing their own writing, this could come through in difficulty writing anything beyond the most basic of sentences. This challenge may persist into adulthood.

What Causes Expressive Language Disorders?

Sometimes, there is a clear cause for language disorder, such as trauma or illness.

However, often the causes in a particular person are not easily understood. Genetic factors and even poor nutrition could be potential causes.

What is encouraging is that treatment in the form of language therapy is available. Depending on the severity of the condition, the prognosis will vary, but many have been able to obtain improvements through it.

Summary of Expressive Language Disorders

Whatever age you are, an expressive language disorder will make communicating a challenge when you have to express yourself.

Separately to this, some people may have a receptive language disorder. Others have a combination of the two, known as a mixed, or global, language disorder.

Let’s look at what this disorder is and how it can be diagnosed.

What’s a Receptive Language Disorder?

In contrast with an expressive language disorder, a receptive disorder means that someone has difficulty understanding what others say to them.

People with this disorder may show in the following ways that they have difficulties with their receptive language abilities:

Tuning Out

Whilst this is certainly not exclusive to people with language disorders, those with this condition will often appear not to be following along in conversations or when listening to narratives.

Tell-tale signs include blurting things out whilst others are speaking and not asking questions or making comments as you might expect in normal conversation.

When put on the spot and asked questions, they may struggle with responding to anything beyond the most basic forms of questions.

Not Following Through

Retaining verbal instructions can present a major challenge for people with these disorders. It is not uncommon to find that they fail to follow through on instructions given.

They may also retain only a small part of the instructions, leaving jobs unfinished.

Challenges to Tuning In

For people with receptive language disorders, background noise and group settings can make it even more difficult for them to take in and retain information.

This can lead to them struggling to have a meaningful share in conversations and becoming quickly distracted. This apparent lack of concentration can make it hard to form and maintain relationships with peers.

Communication Challenges

Although it is the receptive skills that are compromised with these disorders, this can also impact on verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

People with this disorder often struggle to express themselves naturally. They make limited use of gestures, appropriate facial expressions and body language and lack of variation in tone when speaking.

What Causes Receptive Language Disorders?

As with expressive language disorders, the causes are not always apparent.

However, common causes include:

  • Impaired hearing — making it difficult to catch what is being said
  • Impaired vision — visual cues such as body language and facial expressions are missed
  • Attention disorders — making concentration a challenge

Clearly, some of these issues can be addressed separately. Even if the causes remain unknown, with appropriate language therapy it is possible to make progress.

Summary of Receptive Language Disorders

In short, receiving, understanding and retaining information are great challenges for people with receptive language disorders.

This also impacts on their ability to communicate meaningfully, leading to relationship difficulties.

The Takeaway — Expressive vs Receptive Language Disorders

In summary, while both language disorders present differently, there is overlap in how they impact people’s lives.

Those with receptive language disorders may find it somewhat easier to express themselves that those with expressive disorders. However, the fact that processing messages from others is a challenge does impact on their verbal production.

Difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships with peers and others is also a challenge common to both disorders.

Encouragingly though, there are many case studies of people who with appropriate speech therapy have been able to make great progress in how they handle their disorder.

How We Can Help

At Great Speech, we have an innovative package of online speech therapy services that can help you or your child to develop their speaking and listening skills.

If you’re concerned that speech therapy is just for kids, check out our blog here that shows exactly how adults can benefit from it too. We hope that this blog has been of great benefit to you.

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