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Understanding Expressive Language Delays in Children: A Guide for Parents

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 7% of children aged 1-14 have a developmental language disorder. While there are many facets to language, we’re going to focus on expressive language in this blog post and how expressive language delays can impact a child’s development.

Talk Time Speech and Language Therapy | Color picture of children engaging in dramatic play | Read more about expressive language and expressive language delays

What is Expressive Language?

Expressive language encompasses all the ways a person can express themselves. It’s the ability to convey thoughts, feelings, and ideas through speech, writing, gestures, and other forms of communication. When a child has an expressive language delay, they may struggle with various aspects of communication, such as combining words into sentences, building vocabulary, and asking and answering questions.

Expressive language includes:

  • Vocabulary: The words a person knows and uses.

  • Sentence Structure: How words are combined to form sentences.

  • Grammar: The use of correct tense, plurals, and other grammatical rules.

  • Pragmatics: The social aspects of language, such as taking turns in conversation and using appropriate greetings.

Expressive language deficits occur when a child has difficulty using language to express themselves. Signs of an expressive language delay might include:

  • Limited vocabulary for their age.

  • Difficulty combining words to form sentences.

  • Problems using correct grammar.

  • Challenges in asking and answering questions.

  • Frustration or behavioral issues due to difficulties in expressing needs and wants, and more

These challenges can appear in toddlers, preschoolers, and early school-aged children, impacting their ability to interact with peers and adults, succeed in school, and participate fully in everyday activities.

Recognizing Expressive Language Delays in Different Age Groups

Here are a few red flags to look for that may indicate your child has an expressive language delay:

Toddlers (1-3 years old):

  • May use fewer words (or limited babbling/no words) than peers.

  • Have difficulty combining two or more words into simple phrases.

  • Struggle to imitate sounds or words.

  • Have difficulty telling you their basic wants and needs.

Preschoolers (3-5 years old):

  • Limited use of complete sentences/difficulty combining words into phrases.

  • Difficulty telling simple stories.

  • Struggle with understanding and using basic concepts like colors, shapes, and numbers, as well as other daily vocabulary.

  • Have difficulty engaging with peers in conversation, or asking for wants in play.

Early School-Aged Children (5-7 years old):

  • Challenges with producing longer, more complex sentences.

  • Trouble organizing their thoughts to tell a story or describe an event.

  • Difficulty asking and answering questions appropriately in conversations.

How Talk Time Speech and Language Therapy Can Help

Here at Talk Time Speech and Language Therapy, we specialize in helping children overcome expressive language delays. Our approach includes:

  • Individualized Assessment: We begin with a thorough evaluation to identify each child's specific strengths and challenges.

  • Customized Therapy Plans: Based on the assessment, we develop tailored therapy plans that target the child's unique needs.

  • Family Involvement: We believe that parents and caregivers play a crucial role in the therapy process. We provide training and resources to help you support your child's language development at home.

  • Engaging Activities: Our therapy sessions are designed to be fun and engaging, using play-based activities to encourage language use in a natural context.

Our goal is to help your child build the skills they need to communicate effectively and confidently. With the right support, children with expressive language delays can make significant progress and achieve their full potential.

Talk Time Speech and Language Therapy | Color picture of girl working with adult on speech sounds | Read more about expressive language and expressive language delays

If you're concerned about your child's expressive language development, don't wait to seek help. Early intervention can make a big difference. Visit Talk Time Speech and Language Therapy to learn more about our services and schedule an assessment. Together, we can help your child find their voice.


"Quick Statistics About Voice, Speech, Language." National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD),

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