What is Language Disorder? The Complex World of Child Communication Challenges

Child Language Disorders: Types, Causes, Treatments and Research.

What is Language Disorder? The Complex World of Child Communication Challenges

What is Language Disorder? The Complex World of Child Communication Challenges


Picture a classroom where a bright-eyed boy struggles to come up with the right words. His classmates chatter away, but for the boy, each sentence is a mountain to climb. This isn't a tale but a daily reality for children with language disorders. Take young Emma, who, with help, transformed from a silent observer to a storyteller, showing that language disorders are challenges to overcome, not life sentences. 

 Definitions: What is a Language Disorder?

In essence, a language disorder is a communication breakdown. It occurs when a child's capacity to convey or comprehend thoughts, ideas, and emotions lags behind their peers. American-Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) defines spoken language disorders as "an impairment in the acquisition and use of language across modalities due to deficits in comprehension or production across any of the five language domains (i.e., phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics)."

Expressive Language Disorder. Efforts to Communicate.

When we refer to an expressive language disorder, we're talking about a child's struggle to form a coherent vocabulary, construct sentences, or articulate thoughts without hesitation and repetition. This can be akin to the expressive component of the speech chain model (Denes & Pinson, 2001), where the linguistic processing at Level 3 fails to translate into clear speech output.

 Receptive Language Disorder. The Challenge of Comprehension

Receptive language disorder is characterized by difficulties in understanding language. It's a disruption at the Level 1 of the speech chain model (Denes & Pinson, 2001), where acoustic signals don't effectively convert into meaningful information for the listener. 

Developmental Language Disorder. What Is It?

Emma's journey uncovers the complexities of developmental language disorder—a term often used interchangeably with late language emergence in children who are otherwise typically developing but show a significant lag in their language skills. 

Types of Language Disorders: A Broad Spectrum

The breadth of language disorders covers a range of issues affecting the Form, Content, and Use of language (Bloom and Lahey, 1978)—the three cornerstones of communication as outlined by Bloom and Lahey's model. Form relates to the structural aspects of language, such as syntax and phonology; content refers to semantics or the meaning conveyed; and use involves pragmatics, which is how language is utilized in social contexts.

Bloom and Lahey, 1978

Our chart categorizes various language disorders, outlining their unique symptoms and impacts for a more precise understanding for parents and educators.

Adapted based on Bloom and Lahey, content form use model, 1978.

In navigating the complexities of language disorders, it is crucial to remember that they are broad; when planning an intervention, it's essential to properly assess and diagnose to distinguish between expressive language disorder, receptive language disorder, or developmental language disorder.

Causes of Language Disorders

Like a tree with many roots, language disorders can be traced back to a mixture of genetic predispositions, neurobiological factors, and environmental influences.

  • Genetic Factors: Just as a family might pass down heirloom jewels, language disorders can also be a family legacy. Studies show a hereditary link, particularly in cases of developmental language disorder.
  • Neurobiological Factors: The brain's wiring can affect how language develops. Neuroimaging studies have identified differences in the brain structures of children with language disorders.
  • Environmental Factors: The soil in which a child's language grows—namely their home and social environments—can significantly influence language development.

Diagnosis. The First Crucial Step

Identifying a language disorder is similar to detective work. It requires keen observation, thorough analysis, and differential diagnosis. Here's a simplified guide:

  1. Observation: Parents and educators note the child's communication difficulties.
  2. Screening: Initial assessments may be conducted by pediatricians, speech-language pathologists, or school specialists.
  3. Referral: For further evaluation, children are often referred to speech-language pathologists.
  4. Evaluation: A comprehensive assessment is done to understand the child's unique challenges.
  5. Diagnosis: Based on the evaluation, a diagnosis is made, which can include one or more types of language disorders.

For a detailed understanding of the diagnostic tools and processes used by professionals, visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

Effective Intervention Techniques for Language Disorders

The intervention for language disorders involves a multifaceted approach, integrating various stimuli, support techniques, and goal-oriented strategies. By focusing on the individual needs of each child, SLPs and educators can create a conducive environment for language development, ensuring that interventions are as effective and impactful as possible. SLPs and educators employ various strategies for effective intervention in language disorders. These include:

  1. Utilizing Stimuli and Support Techniques: Intervention stimuli can be nonlinguistic (like pictures or objects) or linguistic, presented through various mediums such as computers. Techniques like prompts, shaping, and fading are employed to offer support at different levels. Reinforcement, a key component, can be primary (like food) or social, with schedules adapted to each child's unique needs and targeted behaviors.
  2. Language Facilitation through Modeling: Language facilitators leverage child-centric modeling techniques to boost language production. This includes:
  • Self-Talk: Where the adult describes their own actions, feelings, or observations.
  • Parallel Talk: In which the adult describes the child's actions, encouraging language output.
  • Expansions and Extensions: Used to sophisticate a child's sentence constructions and add relevant information.
  • Sentence Recasts: Altering sentence modality to emphasize specific linguistic features.
  • Focused Stimulation: Exposing the child to multiple instances of a linguistic target within meaningful communication contexts. These methods, rooted in social interactionist theory, support the child in internalizing language concepts and becoming an independent language user.
  1. Assertiveness-Responsiveness Scheme: This scheme profiles an individual's conversational assertiveness and responsiveness, aiding practitioners in determining effective communication skills. An effective communicator balances assertiveness and responsiveness, which is essential for successful interactions.
  2. Goal Structuring: Intervention goals consist of three components:
  • Do Statement: Describes the child's target behavior.
  • Condition Statement: Outlines the circumstances under which the behavior should occur.
  • Criterion Statement: Defines how success will be measured.
  1. Data Collection Methods: Both qualitative (like rubrics and naturalistic interaction ratings) and quantitative methods (such as percentages and graphs) are utilized for assessing progress.
  2. Targeting Form, Content, and Use: Interventions are designed based on the child's proficiency in language form (grammar and syntax), content (vocabulary and semantics), and use (pragmatics). Strategies are tailored to address specific areas of need, from facilitating correct linguistic forms in discourse to enhancing pragmatic skills such as conversational turn-taking and initiation.

Technological Aids and Resources

In our digital age, technology serves as a critical ally in the journey toward language proficiency. Innovative apps and tools are designed not just to engage children but also to track and encourage their progress in language development.

  • Language Development Apps: Explore applications such as 'Speech Blubs' and 'Lingokids', which turn learning into a fun and interactive experience.

A Message of Hope and Action

The narrative of language disorders is not penned with despair but with resilience and determination. We've seen that early detection, personalized therapy, and individualized support can rewrite a child's story, giving the child the voice they deserve.


This blog serves as a beacon, guiding you towards understanding language disorders. However, it is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.