If your child has a developmental expressive language disorder
(DELD), they might have difficulty remembering vocabulary words or using
complex sentences. For example, a 5-year-old with DELD might speak in short,
three-word sentences. When asked a question, they might not be able to find the
right words to answer you if they have DELD.
DELD is usually limited to expression and doesn’t affect your
child’s ability to read, listen, or produce sounds unless your child also has
other learning disabilities.
The causes of DELD
The cause of DELD is poorly understood. It’s usually not related
to your child’s level of intelligence. The condition may be genetic, or run in
your family, or it may be caused by a brain injury or malnutrition. Other
issues, such as autism and hearing impairment, accompany some language
disorders. These issues can worsen your child’s symptoms. If your child’s central
nervous system is damaged, they may be more likely to develop a language
disorder called aphasia.
The symptoms of DELD
The disorder may appear alone or with other language
deficiencies. The symptoms are usually limited to vocabulary issues and faulty
word memory. For example, you child may not be able to recall words they’ve
just learned. Your child’s vocabulary may be below average in comparison with
other children in the same age group. Your child may not be able to form a long
sentence and might omit words or use them in the wrong order. They might also
confuse tenses. For example, they might say "I jump" instead of
Children with DELD commonly use filler sounds such as
"uh" and "um" because they cannot think of how best to
express themselves. They also commonly repeat phrases and questions. Your child
might repeat part of your question back to you while thinking about how to
Receptive-expressive language disorder
If your child exhibits the above symptoms and also has a hard
time understanding what you’re saying, they might have receptive-expressive
language disorder (RELD). In that case, your child might also struggle to
understand information, organize thoughts, and follow directions.
Understanding developmental milestones
Some children’s language skills are delayed but will catch up
over time. In the case of DELD, however, your child might develop some language
skills but not others. Understanding common language milestones in children can
help you decide whether or not to visit your child’s doctor.
Your child’s doctor may recommend that your child sees a speech
therapist, a psychologist, or a child development specialist. Your child’s doctor
will usually ask for a medical history to determine if other people in your
family have a language disorder or speech problems.
A speech-language pathologist is a commonly recommended
specialist. They specialize in treating and evaluating people who have
difficulty with expressing language. During a visit with a specialist, your
child will undergo a standard test for expressive language disorder. Your child
may also need a hearing test to rule out the possibility that hearing
impairment is causing the language problem. Your child may also be tested for
Treating expressive language disorder
Children needs to be able to do the following to develop language
- see information
- hear information
- understand information
- retain information
Speech therapy focuses on testing and strengthening these skills
and on helping your child increase their vocabulary. A speech therapist can use
word repetition, images, tailored reading materials, and other tools to help
nurture your child’s communication skills.
Children who have difficulty expressing themselves may feel
frustrated and socially isolated. Your child might get into fights because they
cannot find the right words during an argument. Counseling can teach your child
how to cope if they become frustrated by their communication struggles.
Recovering from DELD
The outlook is best when an expressive language disorder is not
combined with another condition, such as a hearing impairment, brain injury, or
learning disability. Through language therapy, children with DELD can usually
learn how to express themselves fully. Counseling can also help your child to
adjust socially and avoid low self-esteem. Seeking treatment early is important
for minimizing the psychological challenges that your child might experience as
a result of the disorder.