Kindergartener with receptive expressive language disorder

The mother of a kindergartener with receptive-expressive language disorder sent me this question about her son's response to therapy:

My son is 5 years old in kindergarten and is doing well so far, but he has major issues with syntax. When he speaks, sometimes his words are in the wrong order. I know how to follow his train of thought, but I know for others it must be difficult. Is this going to be permanent, or is this correctable? He's seeing a SLP, but do you have ways for him to overcome this? Also, have you come across a child like this, and how is that child today?

Before responding, I emailed the mother with some follow-up questions and got the following additional information about the child:

  • He has greater difficulty with longer sentences.
  • His sentences are generally limited to 5-8 words in length.
  • In addition to word order errors, he frequently commits errors on grammatical markers; for example, leaving off the -ed on past tense verbs like jumped, or pronoun substitutions such as him for he.
  • The speech-language pathologist is targeting increased sentence length, expressive and receptive language skills, and processing skills.

Here's my response:

About 5-8% of preschoolers (depending on who you ask and how they're counting) have a condition called Specific Language Disorder (SLI). Your description of your son's expressive language sounds consistent with SLI. The good news is that children with SLI generally respond well to appropriate therapy.

The not-quite-as-good news is that often they do not respond quickly. Most of the children I have known with SLI have needed several years of therapy, often continuing into the school years. If dismissed from therapy too early, they may have difficulty with learning to read.

Quite a few of the referrals I've gotten have been for school-age children with SLI who went undiagnosed and untreated, and were then misdiagnosed as having dyslexia.

Fortunately for your son, he is getting treatment. I recommend keeping him in therapy for as long as you can; also read the "Tips and Ideas" section of my site--it's phrased as being for infants and toddlers, but the same principles apply to preschoolers and kindergarteners. Also, be sure you are encouraging and reinforcing age-appropriate literacy and pre-literacy skills, since this is likely to be an area that is difficult for him.

Of course, all I've said here is subject to the caveat that I can't really know for sure what is going on without actually meeting your son in person, so double-check with his SLP before you make any major decisions involving his language development.

Best of luck to you and your son!


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