Understanding Receptive Language

20 Jun Understanding Receptive Language

It’s super easy to judge whether a child is up to par with expressive language – that is, how much they communicate to others.  What’s sometimes harder to notice and identify is whether they have adequate receptive language.  Being the pre-requisite for expressive language, receptive language delay is often the reason why some children aren’t speaking as they should.

Simply put, receptive language means the ability to understand what is said to you.  Expressive language comes next – and that’s the ability to to communicate with others, via gestures, speech or other mediums.  Without good receptive language skills, expressive language cannot develop normally.

How can you ascertain whether your toddler understands language?

Look to see if he/she responds to what you say. Here are some simple responses we can expect from an understanding child

  1. Turn to look at you when their name is called.
  2. Follow your simple directions
  3. Act on a statement made, for example : In response to your statement, “It’s almost time to go to the park”, your understanding toddler might respond by : Going to get his/her shoes, running to the door, taking a seat in his/her stoller or expressing excitement in his/her favorite way.

On the other hand, a child with receptive language delays will not, by the time he is 18 months old, follow your simple commands.  Not pointing to a familiar picture on command, not retrieving familiar objects when asked and/or not answering when his/her name is called are all red flags that the child is having trouble understanding what is said.

How to help a child with a receptive language delay?

  1. Use single words or phrases.  To make it easier for the child to understand, avoid losing him/her in a long winded question or sentence.  For example, instead of saying “Do you want to go with me to the park now to play with the dog and go on the slide?”  Ask, “Want to go to the park?”
  2. Talk with your child about things in context.  To help your child associate the words with what he’s seeing, talk to him/her about what he/she is engaged in right now.  If he/she is sitting on the floor playing with his/her blocks, talk to him/her about that – not about what he/she had for lunch at daycare.
  3. Add visual cues.  Since language is a challenge, try to pair what you are saying with a visual cue, like an object or picture.  This will help him/her understand and learn.
  4. Repeat.  Give your child multiple chances to hear your command.  Instead of getting frustrated, try repeating your command another few times.
  5. Separate commands into single parts.  “Come over here and give Mommy a kiss” may be too overwhelming at first.  Start with “Come over here” and then add the second command when that gets easier.
  6. Give him breaks!  Make sure to pause between thoughts or ideas to give him/her time to process what you are saying. 
  7. Assist in follow through.  If your child doesn’t respond to what you are saying after you repeat it a few times, go ahead and assist them in follow through. This will help him/her associate the command with the action

Children with receptive language delays can be helped to improve to the level of their peers.  By using these at-home strategies and seeking out professional help, your child is sure to succeed!

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