Expressive vs. Receptive Language – The Difference Matters!

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When your ‘special person’ struggles with communication your understanding of expressive vs. receptive language means you gain traction on how to help them.  For sure the difference matters and here’s why!  Socially and academically their lives are going to be a struggle and we both know that’s just not acceptable.

I had to consider this:  When my little one was spoken to was she demonstrating she was able to receive information and then process it?  Was she able to respond to others?

You could ask yourself this about your own kiddo:

Expressive vs. Receptive Language

Does your child “need a minute” to capture what you have said them?

  • Can they follow a two or three step request?  This is an indication of not being able to process what they have heard
  • Do they follow instructions or perhaps do they seem oblivious, confused?  A pause and maybe frown or blank stare could mean they are working on, trying to process, what they’ve heard.
  • Do they seem to become easily overwhelmed?  This could be because they are having trouble organizing what they have been told, what they have heard.

The flip side of this is being able to:

  • Give expression to their thoughts, needs, or wants
  • Putting into words how they are feeling
  • They will find it difficult to explain what may have happened at school or  other social settings, say on a playground and someone has touched them in inappropriate ways, or frightened them.

First Things First

I’m with you on this.  It’s pretty important, isn’t it?  First we have to make sure there isn’t a hearing issue or a specific speech disorder like apraxia.  If this is a language disorder then our kiddos are having trouble not with hearing or pronouncing words, the problem cycles around their ability to apply the rules of language, like grammar.

No, this doesn’t mean they are a “late talker” OR that they are not intelligent.  However, they are facing a significant problem, one that without treatment is going to follow them into all of life’s situations and can cause profound emotional issues and most certainly academic struggles.  We are just going to have to do something about this and that’s for sure!

Feeling ‘Out of Sorts’?

Maybe your parental attenna has gone up now.  Does this make you feel a little out of sorts?  Here are some scenarios I have personally experienced with my little one.  Does any of this sound familiar to you?

  • Temper tantrums and angry outbursts
  • Injured at school and no story/explanation about how it happened
  • Bullied at school or called names and not knowing about it for a long time

I want to clarify that what today’s blog addresses aspects of language, the expressive and receptive aspects of communication.  

We really do need to understand that while speech and language may seem to be the same thing the two are NOT the same.

Expressive vs. Receptive Language

If their hearing is ok, then it could be a language disorder; expressive vs. receptive challenges.

To think of it in simple terms:

  • speech is the actual mechanics of producing words, how the tongue, roof of the mouth, teeth and breath convey communication
  • language is the construction of the written and spoken word often conveyed by speech, the sentence structure, grammar, the syntax and pragmatics of communication

So, to clarify…We are talking about how the brain’s processing ability is affecting basic communication.

Expressive language means it’s difficult for them to express thoughts and ideas
Receptive language means it’s difficult for them to understand what others are saying.

Clear as mud, right?  Well let’s look at this from the perspective of what they should be doing.

MILESTONES in Language – Critically Important

How do we determine if there is a possible language issue?  The signs of a language deficit can be identified long before the age of 4 years old. And YEAH, this is critically important because the sooner you are able to get your child into early intervention services the better their life is going to be.

I know that seems like, well remote, right, especially if your child is still between 0 to 12 months old.  But really, their school life, their adolescent and teen years, and their young adulthood, yup, life in general, will be so much better if they are able to understand what they are told and be able to explain their fears, wants, and needs.

So here is a chart, a list of the all important milestones that can help you do your own assessment. I strongly recommend that you use this handout I have created for you to document what you are seeing and experiencing with your child. Then take this along with you when you discuss your concerns with your pediatrician, any medical specialists, and of course the school staff who will come into your life.

Look through this chart.  It is a checklist that will help you document your observations and helps you identify if your child is typically developing.  

Language Milestones 0 to 5 Years

The organization that licenses and certifies a speech pathologist, otherwise known as a speech therapist, is the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA).  I have appreciated their professional summaries so this chart I have included as a reference for you and is an excerpt from their site.

Why oh Why?  Or you could say “What’s the Cause Behind Such a Challenge?”

A body of research continues to uncover several contributing factors for speech and language impairments (SLI).  Even still what has been discovered isn’t conclusive.  I have broken this down into four main areas of concern.
Contributing conditions:

Premature birth, intellectual disability, and being in the autism spectrum: This jumped off the page for me as my little one was only 2lbs. 5 ounces at her early birth and we have a diagnosis for intellectual disability and autism

Genetic disorders: Down syndrome

Heredity: Surfacing in research is the alarming statistic that 20 to 40 percent of children with a family history will be affected compared with children who do not have a family history of language impairment.

Prenatal nutrition and/or poor maternal choices: Failing to stop smoking, drinking while pregnant, and not taking a supplement containing prenatal folic acid during pregnancy have been demonstrated concerns.

What’s a Good Mom and Dad Supposed to Do?

You are doing it!  Really, you are!

Gathering information, understanding the issues and finding resources and then implementing what we have learned is precisely the way to help our little one’s.  We do not want them to get to adulthood with a ball and chain around their leg.  We don’t want them imprisoned with their sorrow and emotions, fraught with the abuse of years gone by or the misunderstandings that will come as they go into adult life, or of their current life’s communication challenges.

Do the following

  1. Have their hearing tested
  2. Discuss this with your pediatrician and get a referral to a speech-language pathologist
  3. Get onto the calendar of a Pediatric Developmental Physician (VERY IMPORTANT) These doctors are hard to get in to see as they are often backlogged with appointments.  It can take 6 months…or more to see one.
  4. Request an evaluation from your ‘early intervention’ resources in your state.  These provisions are mandated by law under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its free!   Work with these folks to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).  These services cover you and your child until they are three years old. Then….
  5. Your local school district is mandated by law to have in place a program to serve the needs of potentially disabled children by doing an assessment funded by the school district.  Request an evaluation from them.  If you have to, contact the district’s Superintendant or the Director of the ‘Special Education’ or ‘Exceptional Children’ department.  Under the requirements of “Child-Find” they have to do this assessment and at no cost to you!

Remember These Important Points

Expressive vs. Receptive Language Skills are within reach of your child!  Getting help as early as possible, while the brain’s plasticity hasn’t been lost is SO very important.  Early intervention really is critical!  Recording your observations and making an appointment as soon as you can with your region’s Pediatric Developmental Physician is going to bring insight and resources into your life.  I consider what this doctor has done for my daughter and I to be priceless!

Make sure your school district steps up and does what the law requires of them under IDEA (see item 4 above).  If you have to, then go up the chain of command in the school district.  I know a family who had the school nurser tell them they had to have a pediatrician’s referral.  THAT is not factual, not helpful, wasn’t accurate and stalled their getting an assessment for months.  NOT COOL!   Be bold and get the name of  district’s Director of Special Education and call them!!!  Remember you are your child’s advocate and sometimes we have to take the bull by the horn!

If  you are not yet pregnant then help your body to be prepared for carrying your child.  Eat wholesome organic, non-GMO foods and be sure to use a good prenatal vitamin that will have the correct amount of folic acid, a critical nutrient for the developing fetus.  I recommend ensuring you are also getting enough iodine in your system (I will write about this another time, it is important too).  And yes, exercise!  If you smoke, stop!  And from what we now know, don’t drink alcohol when you are pregnant.

So….what do you think?  Is this language disorder a genetic or an environmental issue?  Let us know what you think in your comments below.

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