How to Help a Child Academically With Expressive Receptive Disorder

Children with expressive/receptive language disorder face a number of academic challenges in the classroom. According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 1 in 20 children struggle with some type of language disorder. Expressive/receptive language disorders are generally not associated with an underlying cognitive disorder. Children struggling with them usually do not "catch-up" to their typically developing peers. Instead, children learn to cope with their processing challenges and learn in a more unique and personalized style. However, because language is fundamental to most academic tasks, children with this disorder frequently struggle in the classroom until they have developed sufficient coping skills.

Things to Look For

Children with language disorders not associated with any underlying cognitive disorder are as capable of understanding the concepts presented in the classroom as their typically developing peers are. However, they lack the language skills to organize, access and apply those concepts. In the classroom, children with expressive/receptive disorder frequently struggle with following directions, story-telling, answering complex questions, learning new words, grammar, and abstract language tasks. Not all of these skills are equally challenging for all children struggling with this disorder. Some children are frustrated by additional, less expected tasks. Look for the language component in weak academic areas and build that skill to maximize growth in targeted areas.

Expressive Deficit Strategies

Work with your child's teacher and speech-language pathologist to identify her strengths and weaknesses. Help her use those strengths to adjust for her underlying language challenges. For example, if your child struggles with organizing her thoughts and ideas and is a visual learner, try using concept maps and charts to help her access the curriculum. Abstract and decontextualized language tasks may be especially challenging. Spend extra time on those tasks and help your child focus on what is actually being said or asked for. Ask her to either visualize herself performing the task being discussed or draw the steps in a complex problem.

Receptive Deficit Strategies

A child with receptive language processing problems may have difficulty following directions, leading to a label of poor behavior and/or inattention. However, inattention is more often a function of her disorder than a true behavior problem. Experiment with different ways to help her follow directions and understand what is expected of her. For example, explicit written directions may help as long as they clearly detail the expectation at each step. Language processing problems often make it difficult to understand abstract language and complex sentence structure, so instructions should include concrete steps written in simple phrases. If your child is not yet reading well, substitute sequential pictured instructions.

Confidence Building

A child struggling with expressive/receptive language disorder may feel "stupid" and lack both academic and social confidence as a result. Help your child understand that she learns differently, but that she can learn. Work with her to reinforce things she knows how to do and help her apply that knowledge to new situations. For example, if she has a strategy that works to learn new math skills, help her apply that ability to analyze information in other subjects. Emphasize that working around language processing challenges is highly personalized and your child can use her strengths to develop an individualized learning style that works for her.