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Signs of expressive language disorder at different ages

By Tara Drinks

Expressive language disorder makes it hard to get your message across. People who have it can understand what others are saying. But when it’s time to express their own thoughts, they have trouble doing it. 

Signs usually show up in early childhood, but kids don’t outgrow expressive language disorder. The challenges continue into adulthood. Having this learning difference doesn’t mean people aren’t smart. They just struggle with certain language skills. 

Here are some signs of expressive language disorder at different ages.

Signs of expressive language disorder in preschool

  • Begins speaking late compared to other kids the same age

  • Leaves out words

  • Has lower than average vocabulary

  • Uses gestures to help get points across with others

  • Has trouble with early language skills like rhyming

Signs of expressive language disorder in grade school

  • Uses vague words like thing or stuff when speaking 

  • Struggles to remember words

  • Has trouble using words correctly

  • Doesn’t talk much, seems withdrawn

  • Says things like “uh” and “huh” to stall for time when struggling for words

Signs of expressive language disorder in middle school

  • Avoids interacting with teachers and peers

  • Has a limited vocabulary compared to kids the same age

  • Pauses or gives short and simple answers to complex questions 

  • Jumbles tenses and drops words

Signs of expressive language disorder in high school

  • Doesn’t tell stories in a logical way

  • Leaves out pronouns and verbs in writing assignments 

  • Avoids social interactions

  • Doesn’t join in group conversations

Signs of expressive language disorder in adulthood 

  • Struggles to make small talk at work, doesn’t interact much with colleagues

  • Uses short, simple sentences and phrases

  • Uses the same phrases over and over

  • May have difficulty giving presentations

Expressive language disorder can be frustrating and embarrassing. But there are things that can help. Speech-language therapy can improve language skills, especially if treatment starts at a young age. Students may be able to get accommodations and therapy at school. And adults may be able to get accommodations at work. 

Parents and caregivers: Learn more about expressive language disorder in children .

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