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Children with a developmental language disorder may have difficulties using expressive language (e.g. talking, or writing messages) or with receptive language (understanding what is said or written), or both.

A child with difficulties using language may:

  • use non-specific words, which makes it hard to know what they’re talking about
  • speak in short sentences
  • find it difficult to sequence their thoughts, ideas or stories
  • have difficulty changing their language to suit different social interactions
  • have difficulty asking questions
  • have difficulties knowing how words are related

A child with difficulties understanding language may:

  • have difficulty following instructions
  • have difficulties maintaining attention during story-time
  • provide irrelevant or strange answers when asked questions
  • have difficulty taking turns in a conversation

Children with a developmental language disorder may have difficulty with any of the following specific areas of language: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. For more information on these areas, see Language.

These children often go on to have difficulties with reading and writing. This is an important reason why early identification and early remediation of language difficulties is recommended.

Language assessment

A Speech Pathologist should evaluate a child’s receptive and expressive language skills using a combination of different methods to get a comprehensive picture of the child’s difficulties and to determine the impact of these difficulties. See Assessment for more general information about what an assessment entails.