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Language Disorder

Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder

People with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder have difficulty expressing themselves and understanding what others are saying. This is unrelated to hearing and speech problems.

According to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the disorder appears in five percent of preschoolers and three percent of school-age kids (UMMC, 2010).

Recognizing the Disorder

Problems in Expression

Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder is often first noticed in childhood. Your child may overuse "um" and "uh" because he or she cannot recall the right word. Other signs include:

  • omitting words
  • saying words in the wrong order
  • limited vocabulary compared to classmates
  • repeating a question while thinking of an answer
  • confusing tenses (ex. using past tense instead of present)

Some of these symptoms are part of normal language development. However, a language disorder may be present if several of these issues are present and do not improve.

Difficulty Understanding Others

An equally important aspect of this disorder is having a hard time understanding others when they speak. This may translate into difficulty following directions at home and school.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there may be a problem if your child is 18 months of age and does not understand a command like "come here.” If he or she does not acknowledge your words by nodding, responding, or asking questions at 30 months, there may be a language disorder present (NIH, 2012).

Understanding Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder

Oftentimes, the cause of this disorder is largely unknown. Genetics and nutrition may play a role; however, these explanations have not yet been proven.

Normal language development involves the ability to hear, see, comprehend, and retain information. This process may be delayed in some children, who eventually catch up with peers.

Experts try to identify the cause when language development does not happen naturally.

A delay in language development may be related to:

  • hearing problems
  • brain injury
  • damage to the central nervous system

Sometimes, delayed language may accompany other developmental problems such as:

  • hearing loss
  • autism
  • learning disability

Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder is rarely due to a lack of intelligence.

Addressing and Easing Symptoms

Medical Exam

The disorder is often treated through the collective efforts of parents, teachers, speech specialists, and health professionals. The first course of action is a visit to the medical doctor for a full physical. This will help rule out or diagnose other conditions. For example, a hearing problem that requires treatment might be at the root of communication issues.

Language Therapy

The common treatment for this language disorder is speech and language therapy. Treatment will depend on the age of your child and the cause and extent of the condition. For example, your child may participate in one-on-one meetings with a language therapist or attend group sessions. The language therapist will repeat words and speak slowly to your child to strengthen his or her comprehension and expression skills.

Early intervention often plays an important role in a successful outcome.

Home Care Options

Working with your child at home can help. For example, speak clearly, slowly, and concisely when asking your child a question. Wait patiently as your child forms a response. It is important to keep the atmosphere relaxed to reduce anxiety. Ask your child to put your instructions in his or her own words after giving an explanation or command.

Frequent contact with teachers is also important. Your child may be reserved in class, not wanting to participate in activities that involve talking and sharing. Ask the teacher about class activities in advance to help prepare your child for upcoming class discussions.

Psychological Therapy

Having difficulty understanding and communicating with others can be frustrating and may trigger episodes of acting out. Counseling may be needed to address emotional or behavioral issues.

Consequences of the Disorder

Effective communication is an important part of relationships at work, at school, and in social settings. People who leave a language disorder unaddressed often have a hard time in social relationships. For some people, the condition results in depression or behavioral problems.

In adults, everyday situations such as running errands may be challenging. You may have difficulty getting your point across to others. You may also have trouble understanding your boss’s directions. Your marriage may suffer due to your inability to understand your spouse’s requests on important matters like paying the bills.

Preventing This Disorder

The cause of this disorder is largely unknown, making it difficult to prevent. However, it is possible to reduce its impact by working closely with a language therapist. Seeing a counselor can also help in dealing with the emotional and mental health challenges that the disorder may cause.


Content licensed from:

Written by: Chitra Badii
Published on: Jul 19, 2012
Medically reviewed on: Dec 16, 2015: Tim Legg PhD, PMHNP-BC, GNP-BC, CARN-AP, MCHES

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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