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Expressive Language Disorder


What is expressive language disorder?

Expressive language disorder is a communication disorder. People with this disorder have a very hard time putting their thoughts and feelings into words. (People with this disorder who use sign language have the same types of problems when signing.) Usually people with this disorder are intelligent and understand more than they can express.

There are 2 types of expressive language disorder:

  • Acquired type: The disorder starts after an illness or injury damages the brain.
  • Developmental type: It has not been caused by an illness or injury.

Between 3% and 5% of children in the US have the developmental type. The acquired type is less common. Expressive language disorder is more common in males than females.

How does it occur?

Both forms of expressive language disorder are thought to be related to problems with how the brain works.

The acquired type starts after some type of head or brain injury such as a brain lesion, head trauma, stroke, meningitis, or other condition that affects the brain. It can happen at any age.

The cause of the developmental type is unknown. It is more likely to occur if you have a family history of this disorder. It is usually detected by the age of 3, although sometimes it escapes notice until a child starts school.

What are the symptoms?

Some symptoms of expressive language disorder are:

  • having a hard time finding the words to express themselves
  • being unable to repeat words or sentences
  • having trouble naming objects
  • being able to form only certain types of sentences, such as questions
  • having a hard time learning new words
  • making errors in tense (saying, for example, "I walked to the store tomorrow")
  • having trouble remembering words
  • leaving out important parts of sentences

The acquired type happens quickly. If you notice any symptoms of the disorder after an illness or injury that may have affected the brain, contact your healthcare provider right away.

How is it diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will ask about the symptoms and about medical or mental conditions that run in your family. He or she will do a physical exam and order hearing tests. Your child may be referred to a psychologist for other special tests.

How is it treated?

The most common treatment for this disorder combines language and speech therapy. Many public schools have a speech therapist or tutor who works with children diagnosed with this disorder. There may be treatment centers in your community that help children and adults with communication disorders.

Children learn words and the rules for using them by listening to others talk. Therefore, what you say and how you say it is important. Talking is a natural part of many daily routines such as mealtime, bath time, and dressing. Encourage your child to ask for items, make choices, and answer questions. Encourage him to tell stories and share information.

How long will the effects last?

About half of all children with the developmental type of expressive language disorder are able to overcome it by the time they are in high school. Others may have lifelong problems.

The outlook for those with the acquired type depends on several things:

  • how badly the brain is injured
  • what part of the brain is affected
  • the person's age
  • the level of the person's language skills before the illness or injury

Written by Psychiatric Professional Services, Inc.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-12-22
Last reviewed: 2010-12-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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