Receptive Language Disorders & Development in Primary School

language disorders primary school

Receptive Language disorders may not become apparent until children move into the Primary School level of education. Although they may have been present they may not impact on a child sufficient to fully recognised. For other children, the receptive language disorder may have had major implications of developmental skills globally.

Receptive language development in Toddlers and Preschool children is about predominantly building the scaffolding children need to have sufficient understanding skills during the primary school years. The pressures on the language skills of students in primary school are notably increased.

​What are Receptive Language Disorders?

language disorders primary school

Broadly a Receptive Language Disorder is a communication difficult. This difficulty in communicating can impact on listening and talking, reading and writing or alternative communication systems (e.g., signing).

The DSM-5 (2013) describes language disorder as deficits in comprehension or production and can include the following:

  • Reduced vocabulary (word knowledge and use).
  • Limited sentence structure (ability to put words and word endings together to form sentences based on the rules of grammar and morphology).
  • Impairments in conversation skills (ability to use vocabulary and connect sentences to explain or describe a topic or series of events or have a conversation).
For there to be a language disorder “label” given the language abilities must be below that expected for a student’s age. The difficulties arising from the reduced communication abilities must result in “functional impairment” in school performance, when communicating with peers and caregivers, and participating in social settings generally.

The difficulties arising from the language disorder are not attributable to hearing or other sensory impairment, motor dysfunction, or another medical or neurological condition and are not better explained by intellectual disability or pervasive, non-language specific (global) developmental delay.

​Frequently there are Receptive (understanding) and Expressive (talking/writing) components to a language disorder.

language disorders primary school

​How does Receptive Language Development and Receptive Language Disorders affect students in the Primary School years?

Receptive Language skills can impact on early reading skills in Primary School

This is a major developmental period of development for receptive language skills. It is where auditory comprehension skills (understanding what they hear) is then applied to comprehension of what they are reading. The research shows strong links between strong receptive language skills in the preschool years and reading comprehension skills in primary school. Similarly, Receptive language disorders may not only impact on a child’s ability to follow instructions but also on their early literacy development.

Receptive Vocabulary Skills can be put under pressure in Primary School Years

Receptive Language refers to comprehension skills of words (receptive vocabulary) and concepts. During the primary school years there are a lot of new vocabulary words introduced. There are “new subjects” such as science, mathematics and humanity subjects that carry with it a lot of new and very specific vocabulary (e.g., hypothesis, hypotenuse, sediment, ancient). Students with receptive language disorders can find the load of learning all this new vocabulary difficult.

Receptive Language Skills Can Impact on Classroom Instructions in Primary School

As students move from Prep through to the end of the Primary school years, there is an expectation of growing independence. Instructions that were simplified and repeated in the Prep years become more complex as students move through the grades. Students with receptive language disorders can then struggle with the pace of a primary school classroom. Many instructions can be given in succession yet children with receptive language disorders need extra time to process information. This can result in them appearing to be not completing tasks or avoiding tasks. In reality though, they just may not be understanding what is expected of them.

More Information on Receptive Language

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