Condition: Receptive Language Delay/Disorder

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Receptive Language Delays/Disorders affect a child’s ability to understand language Expressive language delays/disorders on the other hand have to do with the child’s ability to use or produce language.  Children can have either trouble with either expressive language or receptive language; or they can have trouble with both, which is called a mixed language delay/disorder.

Delay vs. Disorder: There is a distinct difference between the terms delay and disorder.  The term “delay” is used when the child is acquiring these language skills in the correct order but at a pace that is slower than other children.  The term “disorder” is used to describe when a child is not developing these language skills in the developmental order and/or develops atypical error patterns or uses.

Developmental Norms:

It can be helpful to look at developmental norms to know when specific language skills should emerge.  Take a look at our developmental checklists to see language skill development from 6 mos-8 yrs.


If you suspect a child has an expressive language disorder, a full communication evaluation should be conducted.  Here are the assessment recommendations according to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s website: 

Assessment typically includes the following, with consideration made for the age and linguistic development of the child:

  • relevant case history, including
    • birth and medical history;
    • family history of speech, language, reading, or academic difficulties;
    • family’s concerns about the child’s language (and speech),
    • languages and/or dialects used in the home, including age of introduction of a second language, as appropriate, circumstances in which each language is used;
    • teachers’ concerns regarding the impact of child’s language difficulties in the classroom; 
  • hearing screening, if not available from prior screening;
  • oral mechanism examination;
  • spoken language testing, including
    • phonology, including phonological awareness,
    • semantics,
    • morphology,
    • syntax,
    • pragmatics, including discourse-level language skills (conversation, narrative, expository).

A literacy assessment (reading and writing) is included in the comprehensive assessment for language disorders because of the well-established connection between spoken and written language. Components of a literacy assessment will vary, depending on the child’s age and stage of language development, and can include pre-literacy, early literacy, and advanced literacy skills. See the assessment section of the Written Language Disorders Practice Portal page.

A speech sound assessment may also be included, given that speech sound errors can be a result of a phonological disorder, an articulation disorder, or a combined phonological/articulation disorder.


Here are some additional resources that will help you with various aspects of evaluating this condition:

Preschool Speech and Language Screenings – Webinar Recording

A one-hour webinar recording with an overview of the research and practice regarding speech and language screenings in the preschool setting.

Language Screening Tools

A quick 4-minute video which shows you a few different language screening tools you can use.

Language Samples

Information about how to conduct a language sample and how to analyze it once it is done.

Evaluating Functional Language

Quick video on how to evaluate functional language and write goals based on your assessment findings.

Evaluating English Language Learners

It can be particularly tricky to evaluate a child who is either a dual language learner or who is learning your language as something other than their first.  This quick video will give you some ideas for evaluating this population.

Play-Based Assessments

Have a client who won’t sit through standardized testing?  Here are some ideas for conducting your assessment through play.


Here are some more resources and information that may help you when it comes to treating this condition.

Condition: Difficulty with Questions

Resources and materials for working with children who need help asking and answering questions appropriately.

Condition: Vocabulary Delay

Resources and materials for children who have a limited vocabulary.

Condition: Following Directions

Resources and materials for helping children learn to follow routine and/or novel directions.

Condition: Difficulty with Life Skills

With older clients, we need to focus on how they can use their language skills for life skills.  This resource will help with that.

Use Play to Promote Language Development (2022)

An hour-long webinar recording about using play in your therapy sessions as a way to address language delays.

Working on Language Targets While Play Games

Great ideas for targeting a variety of language skills during game play.

Working Language and Vocab Into Play Sessions

Have a child who will only play during your sessions?  Turn those play sessions into a fantastic langauge-modeling and vocab-building therapy activity.

Figurative/Abstract Language – Webinar Recording

Information on how to work on abstract or figurative language (such as idioms) with a child.

Classroom Modifications for Children with Language Delays

A one-page handout that can be given to teachers to help them understand how to support students with language delays in the classroom.

Language & Literacy Activities K-4 – Webinar Recording

An hour-long webinar recording with therapy activities and materials for working on language and literacy for classroom success of children in Kindergarten through grade four.

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Resources, Tools, and Training for Speech-Language Professionals

*** The SLP Solution is for informational and educational purposes only and does not provide medical or psychological advice.  We provide general resources but cannot tell you exactly what should be done for a specific client.  Every client is different and your clinical judgement should be used when making decisions about specific individuals.


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