Children learn from an early age that the easiest way to get our attention is through their voice. Usually this progresses from general crying to more focused expressive language but often children have difficulties. These can be short-term or chronic, but expressive language development is sometimes simply not linear.
Expressive language ability involves multiple layers of interaction in grammar, description and labeling of self and interaction of various surrounding items or objects. Some expressive language examples include:
- “I moved the ball” or “my stomach hurts”; short sentences that use correct grammar and syntax to convey a thought clearly
- The articulate telling of a story in an age-appropriate manner
- Being able to fluidly answer questions that are age-appropriate
Dysfunction in these abilities is considered an expressive language disorder. The good news is that there is treatment for expressive language disorder and that it’s very effective. Let’s look at some ways you can both identify expressive language difficulties in your child and how you can help them.
What is expressive language disorder?
Expressive language disorders are determined usually by standardized testing, and considered in a vacuum, absent of other disorders. A child might test highly in intelligence tests, non-linguistic tests and math or non-expressive skills, but has difficulty putting into verbal or written words what they are feeling, experiencing or thinking about. Some symptoms include:
- Very low tests on expressive language development on standardized tests administered by a professional or your child’s school, particularly when other testing categories are at or above the average
- Distress or frustration from your child when their language difficulties make everyday interaction difficult (not being able to convey their thoughts or needs)
- The child’s difficulty with expressive language are beyond any other disorders that are present, and they do not meet the criteria for other communication disorders
- Difficulty in school, socialization or acting out, as these are often manifestations of frustration
Expressive language disorder in toddlers
It can be exceptionally difficult to determine if expressive language disorders are present in toddlers, because those first few years are different for everyone. Milestones exist but many children are simply outliers and there’s no cause for concern. One key factor to look out for is if your child was developing along the predicted trajectory and suddenly starts having difficulties interacting with you or peers, or they suddenly start acting out in situations where they need to express themselves verbally.
One thing to note is that expressive language disorder is not limited to verbal or written communication; it’s been observed in children who use sign language as well. It’s not about words, and more about the act of self-expression itself.
Expressive language disorder strategies
There are plenty of strategies you can employ at home to help your child with expressive language difficulties. These will benefit you and your child and can be great strategies to use at home and/or in conjunction with a professional child development clinic.
Be patient in conversation
Don’t rush conversations with your child and take a moment to make sure they understand what they’re saying. In some cases, a child might not able to find the word that conveys the meaning they want, but if given a few more seconds, they’ll pick it out. This can do wonders for their ability to do this in future conversations as well.
Don’t correct them
If a child says something like “me want drink water”, instead of stopping and correcting them, say “you want to have a drink of water?” This is called modeling, and it will cause your child to self-correct. Correcting them yourself can make the conversation feel like a test, or worse, a punishment.
Be more specific with questions
When a broad question is asked, like “what would you like to do today?” it can make finding the right words that much more difficult. Instead, suggest a narrower range of choices, like “do you want to go to the zoo or the park?” This will help them find the words more easily.
Therapy can help with expressive language disorders
It’s important to remember that patience and interaction with your child are key to helping them express themselves clearly.
- Be patient and don’t rush their communication
- Model correct speech instead of correcting them
- Give them specific choices instead of broad, open-ended questions
Working at home through daily speech with your child is a huge step to making them confident communicators, and working with a professional can make even more profound advances in your child’s expression. Infinite Therapy Solutions provides over 40 years of combined experience in helping families overcome expressive language disorders in the Hudson County, NJ area. Their proven, certified treatments are available for consultation, so if you’re ready to take the next step in helping your child express themselves to the fullest, give them a call today!