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Babies and children start developing their communication right from birth which continues throughout their childhood. Babies will learn to listen and interact with others before moving on to babbling and saying their first words. Children continuously grow their vocabulary, build sentences, increase their speech clarity, and socialise with others as they become confident and competent communicators.

Speech and language milestones give an indication of when babies and children should acquire certain skills. If your child is not meeting these milestones, appears to be developing differently from other children, or experiences difficulty or frustration while communicating, it may be helpful to make an appointment with a speech pathologist.

During the appointment, the speech pathologist will evaluate your child’s speech and language abilities, establish their current level of development, and determine if they are experiencing any delays. Following this, they will discuss with you any recommended therapy or referrals.

What are the different types of communication delays?

Communication is divided into several areas including speech, language, literacy, fluency, and voice. A child may experience difficulties across one or more of these areas.

What are the different types of language delays?

There are two common types of language delays including receptive language delays and expressive language delays. A child may be diagnosed with both receptive and expressive language delays.  

Child In A Speech Therapy Lesson
Girl In Lesson With Speech Pathologist

Receptive language delays

Receptive language describes how a child listens and understands information, including their knowledge of words, comprehension of sentence and stories, and ability to follow directions. Children with receptive language delays experience difficulties with these skills. They are also at higher risk of expressive language delays.

What are the signs of receptive language delays?

Some of the signs of receptive language delays may include:

  • Difficulty understanding what people are saying
  • Find it hard to follow verbal instructions or directions
  • Difficulty answering the questions
  • Repeating directions or questions rather than following or answering them.  

Expressive language delays

Expressive language describes how a child speaks and provides information, including the use of words, construction of sentences and stories, and inclusion of grammatical elements. Children with expressive language delays experience difficulties with these skills.

Boy With Hearing Aids Colouring
Mdi Banner Img@2x

What are the signs of expressive language delays?

Some of the signs of expressive language delays may include:

  • Difficulties acquiring words at the same age or rate as other children
  • Having a smaller vocabulary size or lower number of words compared to other children
  • Difficulty combining words to create sentences
  • Creating sentences that are shorter or simpler than other children
  • Producing sentences that are ungrammatical or leave out key words
  • Telling stories that do not make sense or do not share any information
  • Telling stories where events are missing or not in the correct order
  • Becoming frustrated when trying to express their thoughts
  • Repeating sentences rather than responding to them

When are language delays deemed to have become a language disorder?

There are two common terms applied when a child experiences language difficulties: language delays and language disorders. These two terms are sometimes used interchangeably but actually explain two distinct presentations.

A delay occurs when a child follows the typical path of language development, but at a slower rate.

A disorder occurs when a child deviates from the typical path of language development (missing, adding, or rearranging steps), sometimes at a slower rate.

It is common for the term “language delay” to be diagnosed first and for the term “language disorder” to be applied later when it becomes clearer that a child is developing differently from the path expected.  

What causes receptive and expressive language delays in children?

Many language delays occur in isolation and have no known cause. Other language delays are linked with medical, health, or developmental delays.


Language delays that are associated with certain conditions include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Cleft palate
  • Severe tongue tie
  • Global developmental delay
  • Intellectual or cognitive impairment
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Certain syndromes, such as Down Syndrome
Img Mateo In Lesson
Children Drawing On Easel

Language delays may also co-occur with other conditions including:

  • Motor delays
  • Visual impairment
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Mental illness, such as anxiety or depression

Other risk factors for language delays include:

  • Family history of language delays
  • Prematurity, traumatic birth and/or very low birth weight
  • Chronic illness and/or complex medial history

Your speech pathologist may suggest referrals to another medical or health professionals if your child is experiencing difficulties beyond communication; these may or may not be related to any communication delays.

How are expressive and receptive language delays diagnosed?

If you have concerns regarding your child’s communication, a speech and language assessment with a speech pathologist is recommended. This may be a brief screening or a detailed comprehensive assessment depending on your areas of concerns, the age of your child, and the nature of their difficulties. For babies and young children, the assessment often includes observations of their language during play or conversation. Older children are asked to complete more formal assessment activities to evaluate their skills in different areas.


What are the different treatment options receptive and expressive language delays?

The treatment options for receptive and expressive language delays are individualised for each child depending on the outcome of their assessment. Our speech pathologist will work with each family to develop a therapy plan with number of goals, actions, and strategies to address your child’s language delays.

Examples of therapy goals include:

  • Increasing the size of your child’s vocabulary
  • Combining words to create sentence
  • Using pronouns correctly
  • Following multistep directions
  • Saying the ‘s’ sound correctly in words
  • Learning the letter-sound correspondences for long vowels
  • Reading and writing simple words
  • Speaking with a reduced level of stuttering
Child With Soccer Ball in OT appointment
Children Sitting With Hands Raised

Therapy goals are individualised to each child and are continually adjusted according to your children’s progress and needs.


While therapy sessions with a speech pathologist will support your child’s development, many children with display progress at a quicker rate with access to therapy strategies and activities on daily basis. These strategies should be implemented across all of their regular environments such as home and childcare, kindergarten or school. For this reason, a portion of each therapy session is dedicated to training families to facilitate their child’s language at home. For babies and young children, these may include strategies to implement during play time or during everyday routines. For older children, these may include activities to complete during set “homework” times each day.

The number and frequency of therapy sessions will depend on:

  • your child’s current abilities
  • the severity of their speech or language delays
  • type of therapy being implemented
  • their progress in response to this therapy
  • the family’s familiarity and confidence with the home strategies and activities

Therapy sessions run for either 30, 45 or 60 minutes and take place weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. They may be scheduled in therapy blocks or on an ongoing basis. They also include additional administration time for the therapist to plan activities, document progress, and write reports.


Therapy sessions may also be offered via telehealth if this is their preference if they live regional or remote.


Government funding programs such as the National disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or a GP Management Plan may assist families to access services.


When should I see a speech pathologist about my child's language development?

The intuition of parents and carers regarding their child’s development is often a significant indicator of their progress; therefore, any concerns are always taken seriously. Early assessment and intervention enable the best opportunity for optimal speech and language outcomes; therefore, prompt action to investigate any concerns is recommended.


If you are worried about your child’s language development, it is important to seek advice from a speech pathologist as early as possible to ensure any potential language delays are addressed. If you are unsure if an appointment is required, call our friendly team to discuss your thoughts. Alternatively, a conversation with your child’s GP or teacher may also be helpful.

Img Boy With Cochlear Implants Looking At Camera

How else can I help improve my child's language development?

  1. The quieter the room and the closer you are to your child, the better you will be heard. The child may have difficulty over-hearing conversations and hearing you from a distance. You need to be close to your child when you speak.
  2. Focus on listening, not just seeing. Call attention to sounds and to conversations in the room. Point to your ear and smile and talk about the sounds you just heard and what they mean. Use listening words such as ‘You heard that’, ‘You were listening’, and ‘I heard you’.
  3. Maintain a joint focus of attention when reading and when engaged in activities. That is, the child looks at the book or at the activity while listening to you.
  4. Speak in sentences, not single words, with clear speech using lots of melody.
  5. Read aloud to your child, daily. Try to read at least 10 books to your baby or child each day.
  6. Sing and read nursery rhymes to your baby or young child every day. Fill their days with all kinds of music and songs to promote inter-hemispheric transfer.
  7. Name objects in the environment as you encounter them during daily routines. Constantly be mindful of expanding vocabulary.
  8. Talk about and describe how things sound, look, and feel.
  9. Talk about where objects are located. You will use many location words such as in, on, under, behind, beside, next to, and between.
  10. Compare how objects or actions are similar and different in size, shape, quantity, smell, colour, and texture.
  11. Describe sequences: Talk about the steps involved in activities as you are doing the activity. Sequencing is necessary for organisation and for the successful completion of any task.
  12. Tell familiar stories or stories about events from your day or from your past. Keep narratives simpler for younger children and increase complexity as your child grows.

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