Cleveland speech therapists

Receptive Language Delays: The No. 1 Overlooked Problem in Late Talkers

If you have asked yourself whether your child is a”late talker” or if there’s some larger underlying issue, it’s important to understand that a delay in speech may only be one part of the problem. From the point of view of our Cleveland speech therapists, receptive language delays are among the most common – but overlooked – challenges in children who struggle to communicate.

What Are Receptive Language Delays?

A child is usually going to understand what he or she hears before actually using words. In a nutshell, that is receptive language. A child with receptive language delays is one who struggles to understand what others are saying.

As the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) explains, language refers to the words we use and how they are used in order to share ideas and get what we want. It differs from speech, which is the way we say sounds and words. Speech includes our articulation, voice and fluency. Language, on the other hand, encompasses:

  • Understanding the meaning of words. This can be really tricky, especially if words have more than one meaning. For instance, a crane is a kind of bird, but it’s also a type of construction equipment. It can also be an action (“She had to crane her neck to see the show.”).
  • Making new words. Take the word “friend.” If we switch it up and say “befriend,” “unfriendly” or “friendship,” we build on the original word, but they each mean something different.
  • How we put words together. Instead of saying, “Zack walk his dog new,” we’d say, “Zack walked his new dog.”
  • Recognizing the appropriate timing for certain words. For instance, if we’re trying to pass someone in an aisle, we may politely request, “Excuse me, could I move past, please?” But in an emergency, we might yell, “Move out of the way!”

Some of these are advanced concepts, but they show how you might recognize pretty quickly in a one-on-one interaction if older child or adult struggled with receptive language. In younger children, though, receptive language delays can be trickier to spot. Parents, teachers and sometimes even doctors and therapists might miss the signs. Yet often, when a toddler isn’t saying very much, it’s often because they don’t understand very much.