What is Language Therapy?

What is Language Therapy?

If you’re reading this post, chances are good that you’ve heard of ‘speech therapy.’ Yet many don’t know that speech therapy, or speech/ language therapy, can refer to much more than simply working to fix speech sound errors. A speech therapist can work on many aspects of communication. This blog will discuss language therapy.

“Is it speech or language?”

A speech delay/disorder refers to the sound errors children make when talking – how the child sounds. A language delay/disorder refers to a deficit with understanding what is being said and/or not being able to put words together to express oneself – in other words, the content and quality of what is being said.

Language delay vs. disorder

The term “language delay” is used when a child’s speech & language development is following the usual pattern and sequence, but is slower than other children that age. This means that their talking sounds like that of a younger child.
A “language disorder” is used to describe language development which is not following the usual pattern or sequence. This means a child’s language may be developing in an unusual pattern or differently from other children. They will sound unusual and have difficulty forming their words and sentences to talk to others.
SLPs are trained to determine whether a child experiencing difficulties with their language skills are either a delay or a disorder.


Researchers are still looking for the specific causes of language disorders. As many SLPs know, language disorders often co-occur with other diagnoses or environmental causes, such as:

• Developmental disorders (Down Syndrome, Fragile X) can be a cause of language disorders. These disorders cause a child’s brain to work differently. Your child may have trouble using spoken language to communicate or understanding what other people say.
• Hearing loss is often overlooked but can identified. If your child has a delay in speech or language, their hearing should be tested.
• Environmental deprivation can cause delay. If a child is neglected or abused, and does not hear others speaking, then they may not learn to speak.
• Prematurity can lead to many kinds of developmental delays, including speech/language problems.
• Auditory Processing Disorder describes a problem with decoding speech sounds. These kids can improve with speech and language therapy.
• Neurological problems like Cerebral Palsy and Traumatic Brain Injury can affect typical language development.
• Autism affects communication.

Types of language disorders

Children with language disorders may have one or more symptoms. Severity of the symptoms can vary.
Those with a receptive language disorder have problems understanding the meaning of both spoken and written language. Specifically, they may have:
• Difficulty understanding what other people say
• Problems following spoken directions
• Problems organizing thoughts
Children with an expressive language disorder have issues using spoken or written language to get others to understand what they need or want. They may:
• Difficulty putting words into sentences
• Sentences may be short and simple with incorrect word order
• Problems finding the right words (retrieving) when speaking and use placeholders like “uh” or “um”
• Have vocabulary below his or her expected grade level
• Leave words out when talking
• Use certain phrases repeatedly
• Repeat parts or all of questions
• Use verb tenses improperly

Children who have difficulty both with understanding (receptive language) and using language (expressive language) to communicate can be diagnosed with a mixed receptive-expressive language disorder.


A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) can work with your child to diagnose and treat a language delay or language disorder. A SLP will develop goals for your child and can advise fun, engaging activities to help you, as a parent, work on language development at home. SLPs agree that parental involvement is crucial to the success of a child’s progress in language therapy. If you have questions/concerns about your child’s language skills, call us to schedule an evaluation with a Speech-Language Pathologist.

A Personal Note

As a parent, you know your child best. You are able to understand them when others can’t. You know their strengths and their weaknesses and you’ve been there every step of the way. If you are concerned with some aspect of their development, or when you “have a feeling” that something is amiss, you may seek out professionals to address your concerns. (Yes! Go you!). But sometimes, instead of getting a clear “yes, there are concerns we need to address” or “no, your child appears to be developing appropriately” there is the vague “let’s wait and see” answer. Speech Language Pathologists often hear parents say that they were told to “wait and see” what happens with their child’s development, or that their child might just be a “late-talker”. The problem with waiting to evaluate and treat speech/language concerns is that crucial early intervention time can be wasted. Make the most of your child’s young age and seek advice from a SLP if your “gut feelings” does not go away.


Written by Laura Pierce, MA, CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist, Delaware Speech and Hearing Center

References and Resources
1. What is the difference between a “language delay” and a “language disorder”? (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from http://www.talkingpoint.org.uk/tools/help-and-advice/what-difference-between-language-delay-and-language-disorder
2. Speech and Language Development. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from http://www.mottchildren.org/posts/your-child/speech-and-language-development Gluck, S. (n.d.). Language Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment – Communication Disorders – Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://www.healthyplace.com/neurodevelopmental-disorders/communication-disorders/language-disorder-signs-symptoms-causes-treatment/
3. ASHA Language Milestones – https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/chart.htm
4. Tips & Facts Concerning Child Development – https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/facts.html

By |2018-05-23T01:45:04+00:00May 22nd, 2018|Education, Speech Language Pathology|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Ellen Hughes August 28, 2018 at 5:52 am - Reply

    You got my attention when you said that it’s possible that a child is suffering from language disorders if they are having problems finding the right words when talking and can’t organize their thoughts. My daughter’s teacher met me yesterday and told me that my child could not speak what she wants to say. I want her to get help in speaking clearly and in the right order, so I will make sure to consider a speech therapy for her.

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