Red Flags for Receptive Language difficulties in Preschool

receptive language difficulties preschool

Receptive language skills in preschool is the basis of all learning in these critical years. Receptive language refers to understanding skills. Parents, carers and early childhood staff need to be aware of red flags or warning signs that receptive language difficulties may be present.

Some of the key Red Flags include:

  • Have difficulty processing information presented verbally without visuals.
  • They may only attend to part of the instruction
  • Be inattentive
  • Display poor concentration
  • Follow what others are doing and appear ‘lost’
  • Have difficulty answering questions
  • Not follow the content of a conversation accurately, and as a result, talk ‘off topic’
  • Be impulsive and act before a direction is completed
  • Have difficulty discriminating between words and interpreting everyday speech
  • Have poor reading comprehension
  • Be slower to learn new concept
receptive language difficulties preschool
By 3-4 years children should be understanding a range of “complex” questions. A warning sign can be when a preschool child finds answering simple "Who?", "What?" and "Where?" questions. They may respond by:
  • Just repeating the question back (echolalia). This generally means they are not understanding what is being asked but know they need to say something.
  • They may give the wrong kind of answer for the specific question type e.g., they might give a “what” answer to a “when” question.

Adult: “when did you go?” (when question)

​Child: “to the park” (what answer)

  • Do not actually know the expected response for the wh- question]

What - a thing answer

​When - a time answer (in the morning, at 6pm, last summer)

​Where - a place answer (in the middle, next to the box, in the city)

​Why - a reason answer (because ___; So_____)

By 4-5 children should be attending to, understanding and enjoy listening to stories with and without pictures to help them to attend.

They should be able to remember the story long enough to be able to answer simple questions about the story. They should be able to recall the main sequences of event and some of the details (e.g., the character’s name).

​If there are red flags about a preschool child’s understanding then a referral to a medical officer and / or a speech pathologist would be warranted. Hearing should always be considered and eliminated as a factor for a child presenting with receptive language delays or language disorders. 

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