Children - Communication Disorders

What are communication disorders?

There are several different types of communication disorders, including the following:

  • Language disorders:

    • Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder. Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder identifies developmental delays and difficulties in the ability to understand spoken language and produce speech.

    • Expressive language disorder. Expressive language disorder identifies developmental delays and difficulties in the ability to produce speech.

  • Speech-sound disorders (also known as phonological disorder). This disorder happens when a child continues to have difficulty expressing words clearly past a certain age.

  • Childhood-onset fluency disorder (also known as stuttering). This disorder begins in childhood and can last throughout life. 

  • Social (pragmatic) communication disorder. A person with this disorder will have difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication that is not explained by low cognitive ability. 

What causes communication disorders?

Communication disorders may be developmental or acquired. The cause may be related to biological problems like abnormalities of brain development, or possibly by exposure to toxins during pregnancy. This includes abused substances or environmental toxins like lead. A genetic factor is sometimes considered a contributing cause in some cases.

Who is affected by communication disorders?

For unknown reasons, boys are diagnosed with communication disorders more often than girls. Children with communication disorders often have other psychiatric disorders as well.

What are the symptoms of communication disorders?

The following are the most common symptoms of communication disorders. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.

Young children with communication disorders may not speak at all, or may have a limited vocabulary for their age. Some children with communication disorders have difficulty understanding simple directions or are unable to name objects. Most children with communication disorders are able to speak by the time they enter school. But they continue to have problems with communication.

School-aged children often have problems understanding and formulating words. Teens may have more difficulty with understanding or expressing abstract ideas.

The symptoms of communication disorders may look like other problems or medical conditions. Always talk with your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

How are communication disorders diagnosed?

Most children with communication disorders are first referred for speech and language evaluations when their delays in communicating are noted. A child psychiatrist is usually consulted, especially when emotional or behavioral problems are also present. A complete evaluation also involves psychometric testing. This testing is designed to assess logical reasoning abilities, reactions to different situations, and thinking performance. They are not tests of general knowledge. Psychological testing of cognitive abilities is also part of the evaluation.


Specific treatment for communication disorders will be decided by your child's health care provider, special education teachers, and speech/language and mental health professionals based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disorder

  • Type of disorder

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medicines or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disorder

  • Your opinion or preference

A coordinated effort between parents, teachers, and speech/language and mental health professionals provides the basis for individualized treatment strategies that may include individual or group remediation, special classes, or special resources. Two approaches are usually considered. Remedial techniques are used to increase communication skills in the areas of the deficit. A second approach helps the child build on his or her strengths to circumvent his or her communication deficit.

Prevention of communication disorders

Specific preventive measures to reduce the incidence of communication disorders are not known at this time. However, early discovery and action can address the developmental needs and academic difficulties. This will help to improve the quality of life experienced by children with communication disorders.

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