Signs & Symptoms

Receptive Language

Is your child not getting what people are saying?

If you answered yes to the questions above, your child could be having a hard time with comprehension or receptive language.

At home, you might notice that you need to often repeat chores, instructions or steps to complete a task.

At school, the teacher may report to you that your child is not following along in class or does not seem to understand what to do. Your child may have difficulty understanding vocabulary words in several subjects in school.

Your child may act frustrated or may easily give up on a task because he or she is not sure what to do. He or she may cry easily or may say subjects requiring reading are too hard or take too much time. He or she might avoid reading long books or only choose to write very short stories due to having a hard time composing complex sentences.

It may take too long for your child to finish homework or to start an assignment. Your child may sit and stare at the page after reading directions, feeling unsure what is expected.

Receptive language is the ability to understand conceptual information, whether spoken or read. A child must understand the meaning of words and how words are used in context.

When a child reads something, he or she should know what the information means, and, if spoken to, he should understand what is being said. With a breakdown in language processing, an individual will be confused or will not understand what he is reading or is being asked to do.

For a child struggling with receptive language, completing work may feel like reading a foreign language; the child might be able to read the words fluently but not understand what they mean. If asked questions, he or she may look confused and won’t be able to correctly restate what was learned.

A child may not be able to answer basic questions such as:

  • “What happened?”
  • “Why did it happen?”
  • “Who was in the story?”
  • “Where did it take place?”
  • “When did the story happen?”

These examples are basic comprehension questions a child might not be able to answer after being reading to or reading. Challenges here could suggest a breakdown in understanding.

Sometimes, a child might even make up his or her own story using some facts from what was read or heard, but it is clear that the child did not understand the whole story.

It may appear that the child cannot remember or recall information. He or she may require an increased amount of time or a repetition of the directions to complete a task. Abstract language tasks may be difficult. Complex math problems or tasks that involve multi-steps can create frustration at school, especially when a child is asked to do them under time constraints.

What do challenges with Receptive Language look like?

  • Asking, “What?” all the time?
  • Not getting it, even after you explain something clearly?
  • Having a hard time following directions at school?
  • Giving you an inquisitive look after hearing a story read aloud?
  • Responding to questions with an off-topic answer?
  • Often saying, “I don’t know?”
  • Refusing to get started on a task; explaining, “I don’t know what to do?”

Why is Receptive Language happening?

Receptive language is comprehension. It is the ability to understand what people are saying to you. This skill can be observed through interviews and conversations. Receptive language can be defined as the ability to understand language by utilizing attention, active listening, and processing information presented in an auditory modality. A person with poor receptive language may act confused, not understand what they are being asked to do, or constantly ask for instructions to be repeated. Someone with poor receptive language may not follow directions well, particularly multi-step directions, due to a lack of understanding. English language learners may appear to have a receptive language disorder. However, these challenges may be due to limited exposure to vocabulary and expressions, and this difficulty may not be a true receptive language disorder. With repetition, time, and cueing, comprehension should improve. If a receptive language disorder is present, it will appear in both languages in a bilingual child or multiple languages in a multilingual child. Children with these disorders, require treatment by a speech and language therapist.

How can I manage Receptive Language at home?

A child with language processing challenges will do better with a task when given cues, time to respond, and choices of how to do something.

Think to yourself, ‘how could I teach this without using many words?’

For example, when teaching your child the morning routine, you might first demonstrate how to brush your teeth, get dressed, and come your hair. Then, put the routine on a poster in the bathroom and simply point to each step.

Allow your child extra time to get started on tasks but stay close-by to ensure it gets done. Finally, allow the child choice in what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, or what tasks he or she can do independently vs. those tasks that require your help.

For homework, when the steps down into smaller steps with visual cues and repetition during projects and complex assignments, he or she will typically demonstrate more success and less frustration.

Reading comprehension and listening comprehension are required in all subject areas in the academic setting for a student to be successful. Receptive language difficulties or problems with the processing of information can also, in turn, affect grammar for written language skills.

A child may not understand the rules of grammar and may have difficulty with writing due to poor comprehension of language skills. For these reasons, if you suspect your child has a receptive language disorder, it is important to seek help from your child’s school. A speech therapist can assess whether or not a language disorder is interfering with your child’s education.

If the concern is impacting day-to-day communication but not academic success, it may be that a private speech/language pathologist could provide a diagnosis, treatment, or both.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Receptive Language?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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