Signs of receptive language disorder

Receptive language disorder is a lifelong condition that makes it hard to know what others are saying. The difficulty isn’t with hearing. It’s with understanding the meaning of language.

Trouble with these skills can affect learning, working, and daily living. It can make socializing hard for both kids and adults. And it can take a toll on self-esteem and confidence.

Receptive language disorder is developmental. The signs can show up as early as preschool and continue into adulthood. Kids who struggle with receptive language often have trouble with expressive language, too.

People can be diagnosed with receptive language disorder at any age. But it’s important to catch it as early as possible. Speech-language therapy can improve language skills. And the sooner treatment starts, the more it can help.

Here are some signs of receptive language disorder at various ages.


Grades K–2

  • Has trouble answering questions

  • Waits to see what other kids do before acting

  • Has trouble focusing when someone is talking, especially when there’s background noise

  • Only does half of a task

Grades 3–5

  • Seems to be listening, but then doesn’t act

  • Gives responses that are “off” (not related to the conversation) or that aren’t very specific

  • Interrupts people who are speaking

  • Often asks people to repeat themselves

  • Has a more limited vocabulary than other kids

Tweens and teens

  • Has a hard time following group conversations

  • Rarely asks questions or makes comments during conversation or class discussions

  • Remembers details, but doesn’t get the bigger context

  • Misunderstands what’s been said

  • Doesn’t understand jokes or takes things literally

  • Seems uninterested in conversation

  • Avoids joining afterschool clubs or activities


  • Doesn’t understand language used at work

  • Has trouble keeping up with what people say in meetings

  • Has a hard time answering questions in meetings

  • Doesn’t respond when people say something

  • Seems shy or withdrawn

  • Avoids social gatherings

  • Misinterprets conversation and takes things the wrong way

Struggling with receptive language can make kids and adults feel isolated. But there are ways to improve these skills.

Using visual cues and written organizers can help kids understand spoken information in class. Social skills groups and role-playing can help kids interact. And using email and text can help teens and adults who struggle with following verbal information.

Learn more about receptive language disorder in kids.


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