Receptive Language (Understanding Words and Language)

Receptive language is the ability to receive messages from others. It involves several things. One thing it involves is gaining meaning and information from routine. For example, a child who has difficulties with receptive language may not understand that because we’ve finished brushing our teeth, it’s now time to change our clothes.

Another is the visual information within the environment. For example, this child may not realize that if momma is grabbing their coats, it means they will be leaving soon, or that because the dog is growling, it may mean that he may not like how close they are to his food.

It also involves sounds and words. This child may not understand that if we hear thunder, it means a storm is coming or that the word, “puppy,” means “a young dog.”

Another is the concepts such as shape, size, time, colors, and grammar.

Lastly, a child who has problems with receptive language may have difficulties with written information. For example, they may have trouble reading signs or books.

Some children may appear to be understanding oral language but truly be having difficulty. They may only be able to understand key words and put that together with enough gestures or visual information from the environment to make it look like they understand.

Why Is Receptive Language Important?

Receptive language is vital to successful communication. School is challenging for children with understanding difficulties. They find it difficult to follow instructions and may not be able to respond appropriately to requests or questions. In school, this may lead to listening difficulties, attention difficulties, or behavioral issues. Also, since most activities require a good understanding of language, a child with understanding difficulties will have trouble engaging in activities, accessing the curriculum, and engaging in the academic tasks as are necessary for their grade level.

Does My Child Have a Problem with Receptive Language?

If you’re concerned that your child may have a problem with receptive language, here are a few things to watch for:

  • Does your child have difficulty listening and attending to language?
  • Does your child pay attention within group times in school?
  • Does your child follow instructions that his peers can follow?
  • Does your child respond to questions by repeating what you say rather than answering?
  • Does your child find it difficult to listen to stories?
  • Does your child give unusual answers to questions?

**These difficulties may vary depending on your child’s age.

Can Other Problems Occur with Receptive Language Difficulties?

When a child has receptive language difficulties, they may also have other challenges. For instance, they may have problems with doing activities that necessitate attention and being able to hold that concentration long enough to complete the task. Many of these children are also disruptive in the classroom, as they cannot easily understand what the teacher is talking about. They have difficulty with literacy. Social skills seem to present a problem. They have issues with sensory processing and higher thinking skills. Expressive language is difficult for them, as is planning and sequencing, and auditory processing.

What Can I Do to Help My Child?

There are several things you can do to help a child who has receptive language difficulties. First, make sure you obtain eye-to-eye contact with your child before giving them instruction. Don’t give them too many instructions at one time. Also, use easy-to-understand language.

Next, be sure to give one instruction at a time, then wait for your child to return before providing the second part of the instruction. Rather than, “Pack your bag, put on your coat, and go to the car,” say this in three different sentences. “Pack your bag.” Wait for your child to comply. “Put on your coat.” Wait for your child to finish. “Great job! Now, go to the car.”

Another thing you can do is to use the first/then concept. You use this to help a child know what order they need to complete commands in. “First sharpen your pencil, then go to your room.”

You can also help your child succeed by encouraging him to always ask for clarification if they need the command repeated. Next, physically show him what to do when you give him instruction so he can see what the instruction looks like. Rather than physically demonstrating the instruction, you might use visual aids in the same way.

Play with your child often. Talk about what you’re doing with the toys.

When home, turn off any background noise (i.e., radio, television, music) when talking with your child to minimize distractions. Get down on your child’s level when you speak to him. Also, use visuals to support your child’s understanding.

Lastly, look at books with your child. Show interest. Talk about the pictures and the story. Ask your child what he thinks might happen next or explain why something happened the way it did.

What Activities Can Improve Receptive Language?

There are several things you can do together to improve receptive language. When cleaning or playing or just going about your day, spend time naming things out loud with your child. As you shop or visit other places, have your child talk about where he went and what he saw. Have him draw it or act it out.

A game that’s quite fun is to model new words. Play activities your child enjoys. Throughout the game, model new words or phrases.

You could also explain new concepts and colors in different ways. For example, show your child white objects to talk about the color white. Make a craft, building a white snow scene using white cotton balls. Play games, such as “Eye Spy,” to further learn about colors.

Play Simon Says with your child. Take turns being the leader. Gradually increase the length of the command. For example, you might start with, “Simon says clap your hands.” Later, you can move on to “Simon says clap your hands, then stomp your feet” or “Simon says after you count to 10, stomp your feet.”

Create an obstacle course. It can be indoors or out. Take turns being the leader. Gradually increase the length of the command. For example, you might begin with “Crawl to the table” and move to “Crawl to the table and then hop to the refrigerator.”

Another thing you can do is place different items in a bag (i.e., car, block, ball, etc.). Have your child guess what the object is before he pulls it out. When he pulls it out, have him describe the item (i.e., shape, color). Ask him questions about the object (i.e., “Is it square?” “What color is it?” etc.).

Lastly, while reading books together, ask each other questions about the book and its pictures. For example, “What do you think will happen next?” or “What is the man doing in the picture?”

Why Should I Seek Therapy for My Child if He Has Difficulties with Receptive Language?

Getting a child therapy is essential for many reasons. For one, therapy will help develop and strengthen your child’s ability to engage in a classroom setting effectively. It will help them be better able to do things like completing academic tasks and appropriately following instructions. It will also help to develop and strengthen his ability to appropriately communicate with adults and individuals who are unfamiliar with him.

Therapy will help your child to understand and respond appropriately when questions are asked. It will develop your child’s understanding of concepts, improve his reading skills, and develop his understanding of concepts. The therapy will also improve his literacy skills, develop alternative forms of communication, such as sign language, if his verbal language is slow in developing, and help to reduce the frustration your child experiences in comprehending the school and home environment. Lastly, therapy will help your child to facilitate expressive language development.

Without Therapy, What May My Child Face?

A child who has difficulties with receptive language may also have problems with several other things. For instance, engaging in positive social interactions and forming new friendships may be a problem. It may be difficult for your child to complete exams, tests, and academic tasks in higher-level education. He may find difficulty applying for a job in both the written application and answering verbal questions during the interview. Without therapy, it may be more difficult for your child to develop writing and reading skills and give or follow directions to find new or unfamiliar places.

What Type of Therapy Is Recommended?

It’s best to consult a speech therapist if your child has difficulties with receptive language.

If you have a concern in areas outside of words and language, you may also want to consider looking into an Occupational Therapist as well.

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