Early Childhood Intervention: Module Two – Special Needs & Conditions

Children with Expressive Language Difficulties


Expressive language disorder means a child has difficulty with verbal and written expression. Language can either be delayed or disordered, or a combination of the two. Expressive language disorder can present in two forms, delayed or disordered language.

  1. Delayed – When a child’s language development is slow but follows the usual sequence or pattern of development it is identified as delayed;
  2. Disordered – When a child’s language is slow to develop and the sequence of development and pattern of grammatical errors is different from what is normally expected it is identified as disordered;

Signs a child may have expressive language difficulties include the following:

  • Frequently having trouble finding the right word;
  • Having a limited and basic vocabulary;
  • Using non-specific vocabulary such as ‘this’ or ‘thing’;
  • Using the wrong words in sentences or confusing meaning in sentences;
  • Making grammatical mistakes, leaving off words (such as helper verbs) and using poor sentence structure; Relying on short, simple sentence construction;
  • Using less words and sentences than children of a similar age;
  • Relying on “stock standard phrases ” (see full Glossary) and limited content in speech;
  • Repeating (or ‘echoing’) a speaker’s utterance;
  • Having difficulties to ‘come to the point’ or talking in circles;
  • Having problems with retelling a story or relaying information;
  • Finding it is very hard to start or hold a conversation;
  • Having difficulties with oral and written work and school assignments (for older children).
  • In order to determine if an expressive language difficulty exists, the following assessments might be made
  • Speech delays are assessed by speech language pathologists or SLP’s. Speech pathologists perform specific assessments in order to find out which areas of language appear to be difficult for your child. Early detection is important.

Other assessments that may be recommended:

  • Hearing and auditory processing tests;
  • Tests for learning difficulties;
  • Assessments of cognitive function (thinking and intelligence).

Intervention Options

To learn about expressive language disorders in the middle childhood years, please visit the six to 12 part of this course.


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