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Language Disorders in Toddlers

Posted by Karrie Johnson

| Pediatrics

Your toddler has just finished throwing a temper tantrum for the ages and you're at your wits end trying to figure out what he wants. He has very limited vocabulary and often struggles communicating his wants and needs. He previously had met all significant milestones to this point, but his lack of speech at this stage is beginning to alarm you and your pediatrician. What do you do, and when should you take action?

Formerly referred to as a "language delay," Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder (MRLD) is when a child is not meeting expected milestones for communication for their understanding / processing of other's speech (receptive language) and in their ability to make their wants and needs known verbally (expressive language). A child with MRLD will have deficits in both receptive and expressive skills while a child with an Expressive Language Disorder only will be able to follow directions and demonstrate understanding of the language of others, but will demonstrate deficits in their use of verbal expression.

Symptoms you should look for as signs of language disorders in toddlers are:

  • Difficulty following directions Limited vocabulary
  • Difficulty imitating sounds, words, and/or environmental noises
  • Speech is difficult for others to understand
  • Primarily uses crying, pulling, and/or gesturing instead of words to make wants/needs known
  • Demonstrates increased frustration when communicating
  • Child uses frequent jargoning (long string of consonants) when playing with limited number of true words

Causes for Language Disorders

The cause for a language disorder is currently unknown, but children with a family history of speech-language disorders are more at risk.

Other conditions that can affect a child's language development include: frequent ear infections, hearing loss, Traumatic Brain Injury, Autism Spectrum Disorder, stroke, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and genetic syndromes.

How can speech therapy help?

Speech therapy for toddlers involves an individualized program that focuses on language building techniques specific to your child along with an emphasis on building confidence and reducing frustration with communication.

Tips for how to help encourage language development at home:

  • Hold objects up by your face when offering choices
  • Sign language has been shown to improve language development for both typically developing children and children with language disorders (i.e., signs for "more," "all done," "please," "help," etc. can help your child make their wants and needs known. 
  • Try to avoid correcting your child's pronunciation of words as they are forming their vocabulary and attempting to put phrases together.
  • Make language learning fun! Children learn best through play. Try using simple 1-2 word phrases to talk about what is happening in play (i.e., "ready, set ... go!", "Go up," " Night-night doggie," etc.)

Just remember, you're not alone in your struggles to find solutions and help for your child. Our pediatric speech language pathologists (commonly referred to as speech therapists) are trained, highly educated, and compassionate to your challenges and needs. Contact us today to see how we can help!

Contact our Pediatric Team today

Author Bio:

Karrie is one of the warmest and most welcoming therapists you will meet. Her "why" behind being a speech therapist is about assisting families on their journey towards growth while emphasizing the importance of listening, compassion, and education. Clinically, she incorporates principals from Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) which focuses on building trust, promoting feelings of competency, and increasing opportunities for dynamic thinking. Karrie also incorporates techniques by Linda-Mood Bell for reading comprehension by helping children utilize the visual part of the brain while listening to auditory information to improve recall, comprehension, and critical thinking skills.