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Expressive language disorder - developmental



Developmental expressive language disorder is a condition in which a child has lower than normal ability in vocabulary, producing complex sentences, and remembering words. However, children with this disorder may have the normal language skills needed to understand verbal or written communication.

Alternative Names

Language disorder - expressive


Approximately 3 - 10% of all school-age children have expressive language disorder. It is a pretty common issue in children.

The causes of this disorder are not well understood. Damage to the cerebrum of the brain and malnutrition may cause some cases. Genetic factors may also be involved.

  • Below-average vocabulary skills
  • Improper use of tenses (past, present, future)
  • Problems making complex sentences
  • Problems remembering words
Signs and tests

Standardized expressive language and nonverbal intellectual tests should be conducted if an expressive language disorder is suspected. Testing for other learning disabilities may also be needed.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

How much the child recovers depends on the severity of the disorder. With reversible factors, such as vitamin deficiencies, there may be nearly full recovery.

Children who do not have any other developmental or motor coordination problems have the best outlook (prognosis). Often, such children have a family history of delays in language milestones, but eventually catch up.

Calling your health care provider

If you are concerned about a child's language development, have the child tested.

  • Learning problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Social problems

Language therapy is the best method to treat this type of disorder. The goal of this therapy is to increase the number of phrases a child can use. This is done by using block-building techniques and speech therapy.


Good nutrition during pregnancy and early childhood and prenatal care may help. Other methods of prevention are unknown.


Simms MD. Language disorders in children: classification and clinical syndromes. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2007;54(3):437-467.

Review Date: 6/18/2008
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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