Language Disorders

Language disorders, language delay, specific language impairment (SLI), expressive language delay, receptive language delay....all these terms are considered a spoken language disorder.

Children who have spoken language disorders can look different from each other.

language disorders

Definition of Language Disorders

A spoken language disorder is a language disorder defined by difficulty learning and using language due to deficits in receptive and expressive language skills in the area(s) of:

  • Phonology
  • Morphology
  • Syntax
  • Semantics
  • Pragmatics 

It is important to note that the characteristics or symptoms of a language disorder may persist through development and change over time. 

A child who has a language disorder may also have:

  • autism 
  • intellectual disabilities 
  • developmental disabilities 
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • hearing loss

If a child has a language disorder and no other disorder, his/her language disorder is considered a specific language impairment (SLI).


We all want to know what is the CAUSE of a language disorder. Well, that can be hard to pinpoint at times. Some common causes are:

  • Unknown (I feel this is VERY common from my experience)
  • Cognitive processing deficits (e.g., Miller, Kail, Leonard, & Tomblin, 2001; Ellis Weismer & Evans, 2002; Leonard et al., 2007), 
  • Biological differences (e.g., Ellis Weismer, Plante, Jones, & Tomblin, 2005; Galaburda, 1989; Hugdahl et al., 2004)
  • Family history/genetics (e.g., Rice, 2012, 2013)
  • Premature birth/low birth weight

The factors listed above are just risk factors. In plain English, this means just because children may have one or more risk factors, it does not mean they will develop a language disorder.

The opposite is also true. A child does not have to have a risk factor to have a disorder.  

Children who have language disorders are at risk for:

  • Written language difficulties 
  • Social communication difficulties
  • Academic learning difficulties

* This is why therapy and supports are so important!

Does my child have a language disorder?

If you suspect that your child has a language disorder, please schedule an appointment with us or find a speech pathologist in your area. 

Your child will need an evaluation. Click here to learn what a language disorder evaluation entails. 

In the meantime, below are signs of a POSSIBLE language disorder. I outlined a few key things to look for. 


  • Difficulty learning phonological skills
  • Expressive language has less complex syllable structure
  • Difficulty with nonword fluency
  • Limited phonological awareness (i.e., rhyming, segmentation, etc..).

Morphology and Syntax 

  • Delayed production of 2-word phrases
  • Decreased mean length of utterance
  • Decreased understanding and use of complex sentence structures
  • Oral grammatical errors - omission or misuse

Semantics (Vocabulary/Word Meaning)

  • Slow rate of vocabulary development
  • High repetitions of new vocabulary words needed for mastery
  • Word-finding difficulties
  • Difficulty following oral directions
  • Decreased awareness of misunderstanding of information
  • Difficulty understanding stories and being able to retell a story


  • Difficulty initiating and maintaining play with peers
  • May prefer to play alone
  • Difficulty initiating and maintaining conversations
  • Difficulty expressing feelings, ideas, and retelling stories

* Although these areas are listed separately, it is important to note that language skills are not discrete. 

What does therapy look like?

This is complex and lengthy so I made a whole page dedicated to it. Check out our language disorders therapy page NOW!

What can I do at home, TODAY?

There are many easy ways to support language learning at home. 

  • Explore our FREE language activities!
  • Join our membership group! We have hundreds of games for all areas of speech and language development and for all ages. 
  • Check out our eBook Preschool Talk. It covers all the areas listed above for preschool children and incorporates learning into daily activities. 
  • Learn more about our Language Development eBook. It has everything you need to support language skills for elementary age students
  • Grab an ENTIRE YEAR of FREE Language Material. Fill out the form below, and I will deliver my favorite materials right to your inbox EVERY WEEK for ONE YEAR! 

Free Language Therapy Materials

Fill out the form below to grab your free worksheets

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