Receptive Language Disorder

Receptive Language Disorder
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A receptive language disorder is an impairment in the comprehension of a spoken, written, gestural or/or other symbol system.


When a child has receptive language disorder, he or she exhibits significant deficits in the level of development of comprehension of language.  These deficits affect how the child functions socially or academically.

Children with receptive language problems can have great difficulty understanding what is said to them.  Most children with a receptive language disorder will also have an expressive language disorder (difficulty using language to express ideas).

Children with a receptive language disorder can have difficulty with any of the following:

  • Understanding what gestures mean
  • Following directions
  • Understanding questions
  • Identifying objects and pictures
  • Taking turns when talking with others
  • Understanding the order of words in a sentence
  • Understanding plurals and verb tenses
  • Understanding age-appropriate vocabulary and knowledge about objects and sequence of events
  • Knowledge of the goals or functions of language (e.g. to obtain a desired object, tell a story, ask questions, comment)
  • Knowledge of how to use language to achieve goals (e.g. appropriately using language to get a desired object, )
  • Carrying out cooperative conversations (e.g. perspective-taking and turn-taking)


The cause of a Receptive Language Disorder is often unknown, though it may be related to genetic factors, amount of exposure to speech and language and/or delays in general development. Receptive Language Disorders may also exist in children with developmental disorders such as Autism and Down’s Syndrome or medical problems such as a brain injury or brain tumor.

Diagnosing this disorder:

Speech language pathologists diagnose this disorder.  When children exhibit language skills below what is expected for their age, developmental disorders are often suspected by the child’s parent, pediatrician or teacher. The child is then referred to the speech-language pathologist who will conduct a full diagnostic evaluation of the child’s receptive and expressive language skills, using standardized tests and informal measures. The speech-language pathologist will also evaluate other measures of communication to rule out other issues. The child’s vision and hearing must be screened prior to testing as well to achieve valid test results. Children exposed to multiple languages should be screened in all languages and tested in their primary language. This multilingual assessment framework is referred to as a “difference vs. disorder” approach.  Assessment data is obtained in all languages of exposure. Any noted errors or differences in communication skills are then analyzed and assigned to three main categories:  1) errors appropriate for the child’s age (developmental errors); 2) errors attributed to the interaction between the two languages spoken (cross-linguistic influence); and 3) atypical errors.

Receptive language disorder is diagnosed when an individual does not demonstrate the ability to comprehend age-appropropriate vocabulary, follow instructions or understand foundational communication skills such as turn-taking and perspective-taking during conversation. Careful diagnosis is important to distinguish receptive language disorder from other communication disorders and other diagnoses such as intellectual disability, autism and/or other physical and developmental problems which may first manifest as language problems.


Individuals benefit from a regular schedule of speech therapy with a speech-language pathologist. Parent and teacher involvement in the use of strategies learned in therapy provides maximum benefit.  Treatment for a receptive language disorder is tailored to each child’s needs.

Areas of treatment can include:

  • Strategies to improve the child’s ability to follow directions
  • Techniques to improve receptive comprehension of questions (e.g. who, what, where, when), age-appropriate vocabulary, and sequencing
  • Strategies for practice using language appropriately in social situations, such as taking turns in conversation.
  • Helping the child use other ways to communicate when needed. This may include simple gestures, picture boards, or computers that say words out loud. This is also called augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC.


Books for Kids:

Reading to your child will help with their language development, especially repetitive books (Apraxia Kids) with pictures and basic concepts. Here are a few examples:

  • Jump, Frog, Jump! by Kalan R.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear by E. Carl
  • It Looked Like Spilt Milk by C.B. Shaw
  • The Napping House by A. Wood
  • Goodnight Moon by M. Brown
  • I Went Walking by S. William
  • Froggie Gets Dressed by J. London
  • The Hungry Caterpillar by E. Carl

Books for Parents:

 Support Groups:



Kaderavek, J.N. (2011) Language Disorders in Children: Fundamental Concepts of Assessment and Intervention, Allyn & Bacon

Paul, R. (2006) Language Disoders form Infancy through Adolescence. Assessment and Intervention. Mosby

Morrisey, B. (2012, May 18). Receptive Language Disorders.

Do you have more great resources for families or community members?  We would be happy to add any great resources to this webpage.  Please email us with the link or content.

Also check out: Prematurity Speech Implications and Resources

Are you in the Austin Texas Area and looking for Speech Therapy for a Receptive Language Disorder?

If you are looking for Speech Therapy in Austin Texas to treat a Receptive Language Disorder, we are here to help.  Contact our clinicians by visiting our Speech Therapy Austin Clinic Page and give us a call or send us a message.  

We look forward to serving you.