Expressive language disorder - developmental

Alternative names 
Language disorder - expressive


Developmental expressive language disorder is a disorder in which a child has lower-than-normal proficiency in vocabulary, the production of complex sentences, and recall of words.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Approximately 3 to 10% of all school-age children have expressive language disorder. The causes of this disorder may vary, or may be unknown. Cerebral damage and malnutrition may cause some cases - perhaps in combination with genetic factors.


  • Below-average vocabulary skills  
  • Improper use of tenses (past, present, future)  
  • Problems in the production of complex sentences  
  • Problems in recalling words

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

Language therapy is the best method to remedy 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.

Expectations (prognosis)

The degree of recovery depends on the severity of the disorder. With reversible factors like vitamin deficiencies, there may be nearly full recovery.


  • Problems with socialization  
  • Learning problems  
  • Low self-esteem

Calling your health care provider
Parents who are concerned about a child’s language development should have the child tested.

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

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Dave R. Roger, M.D.

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