Akron speech therapists

Receptive Language Problems a Top Cause of Late-Talking Toddlers, Speech Therapists Say

All kids develop speech and language skills at their own pace. The fact that your child’s speech and communication skills don’t fall within the exact window as a textbook definition doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be alarmed. Still, speech therapists know that when a toddler is a late talker, it may be impossible without in-depth testing to determine whether a child is simply late bloomer or if there is a larger problem.

Research tells us there are numerous factors that can help us determine if a child’s late talking is part of a developmental delay. Some of those red flags include things like:

  • Limited use of gestures
  • Lack of pretend play skills
  • Difficulty with joint attention (sharing the focus of another individuals, indicated with eye-gazing, pointing or other verbal/non-verbal cues)
  • Delays in cognition
  • Receptive language problem or delay
  • Repetitive movements
  • Unusual vocalizations

Perhaps the most overlooked among these is a receptive language problem or delay. And yet, in the opinion of our Akron speech therapists at Therapy & Wellness Connection, it’s one of the primary reasons many toddlers with otherwise unexplained language delays aren’t talking.

Speech Therapists Explain Receptive Language? 

Although the terms are used interchangeably, there is a difference between speech (talking) and language (expressing oneself and and understanding what is being expressed to them). Language involves talking, but it’s much broader than that, and includes things like non-verbal cues and gestures.

There are two types of language: Expressive and receptive.

Expressive language is one’s ability to convey their meaning to others. Receptive language is the ability to understand what’s being conveyed to them.

Kids need to first learn how to understand words before they can use them to communicate. That’s why receptive language is the most common sense place to start when a toddler isn’t talking on time. A toddler with receptive language delays or disorders will inevitably have problems with expressive language too (called mixed expressive-receptive language disorder). However, one can have expressive language issues without having a receptive language delay or disorder.

How Do I Know if My Child Has a Receptive Language Delay?

It’s often tougher than people think to identify a receptive language problem. We assume and take for granted that our kids can understand us. But ask yourself whether your toddler is actually responding to what you say. That’s the biggest indicator that they understand.

For instance, when you tell your toddler in a casual tone that it’s “time for the park,” what’s his response? Does he get excited and jump up and down? Does he run to get his shoes, coat or favorite outdoor toy? Does he go to the door? These are the kind of responses that can indicate your child understood your meaning – even if he or she hasn’t said a word.

Typical receptive language development involves being able to follow simple verbal commands by 18-to-24-months-old. That means the child:

  • Responds to his/her own name;
  • Retrieves a familiar item on request;
  • Points to their body parts, common items or pictures when you ask, “Where’s the _?”

Keep in mind that there is a difference between a toddler choosing not to obey (every parent has been there) and being unable to follow your instructions because they don’t understand them.

There are many things our speech therapists can do right now help toddlers who have language delays. Early intervention is always recommended for the best long-term outcomes.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Cleveland. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email

Additional Resources:

Late Language Emergence, American Speech-Language-hearing Association

More Blog Entries:

How Long Will My Child Need Speech Therapy? March 28, 2020, Akron Speech Therapists Blog