Trouble with receptive language: What you’re seeing

Does your child tune out during conversations or respond in ways that don’t make sense? Kids who have trouble with receptive language may hear and read words just fine. But they can struggle with understanding the meaning of language.

Learn more about what you might be seeing.

Seems uninterested when people are speaking

At home: When other people talk or share stories, your child rarely asks questions or makes comments. Or your child may interrupt when others are talking.

At school: No matter how short or interesting a lesson may be, your child doesn’t seem to be listening.

The issue: Kids who have trouble with receptive language may tune out and withdraw because what they hear has little meaning to them. They don’t know how to respond.

Has difficulty following directions

At home: Your child nods when asked to do things. However, your child consistently seems to “blow off” your requests or performs only half the task.

At school: The teacher says your child can only follow directions if they’re broken into small steps. Your child may also wait to act in order to copy what other kids are doing.

The issue: Kids who have trouble with receptive language may struggle to follow directions. Spoken instructions are especially tough because they’re often said quickly.

Consistently misunderstands what is asked, said, or written

At home: You ask, “How are you doing?” but your child responds with specific actions: “I’m looking for my baseball glove.” Or your child may ask you to repeat the question.

At school: When the teacher asks a question at story time, your child’s answers are off base. For example, if the teacher asks, “Where was Little Red Riding Hood going?” your child might say, “She has treats in that basket.”

The issue: Kids who have receptive language issues can often grasp details. But they may struggle to connect words and ideas for greater meaning.

Read more about what can cause trouble with listening comprehension. Take a look at steps to take if your child is struggling with spoken language.


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