Understanding Expressive Language Disorder

Expressive Language Disorder, abbreviated ELD, is a type of communication disorder that affects a child’s development of language and ways to communicate verbally. A child with ELD will have difficulty with verbal or written expression, but will not struggle with comprehension. They usually have no other academic or developmental impairments and will fall within a normal range of developmental and academic milestones. For example, if a six-year-old with ELD is asked a question, they may respond with a short incomplete sentence or may not be able to find the right words to use, but will be able to comprehend “put your toys away.”

Signs of Expressive Language Disorder

Below average vocabulary skills

Difficulty forming complex sentences

Speaking in short sentences

Using general and non-descriptive words

Difficulty remembering words

Improper use of words

Using words in the wrong order

Improper use of tenses – “I will threw the ball” instead of “I will throw the ball.”

Causes and Impact of ELD

There are two categories of ELD: Developmental and Acquired. Developmental ELD has no known cause. It is thought to perhaps be due to genetics, but this theory is still not fully understood. Acquired ELD has been linked to brain injury, seizures, and malnutrition.

Because ELD causes difficulty with communication, children often experience academic and social repercussions. Low self-esteem, difficulty making friends and academic issues are most commonly seen. Although ELD does not impact learning or development, some aspects of academia expect children to express their ideas verbally or in a written format. Without proper support and treatment, it may be extremely difficult for a student with ELD to reproduce what their teacher is asking for. For example, a class is instructed to give a presentation on an aspect of United States history; a child with ELD may not be able to use the necessary words, complex sentences, or correct terminology to complete this assignment.


A diagnosis of ELD will be made by a speech-language pathologist. The pathologist will conduct a series of tests to reach a diagnosis and will also try to rule out any other possible causes. Treatment and prognosis vary based on the severity of the symptoms. A child struggling with malnutrition will most likely have an easier time recovering than a child with a severe brain injury. Despite the cause of ELD, speech therapy has proven to be the best treatment. Speech therapists will use progressively more challenging activities to help increase the proper use of words, verbal expressions, and complex sentences. ELD will not cure itself, so early detection and treatment are key. If a child receives treatment for ELD (the earlier the better), they will most likely catch up to their peers quickly.

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