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Receptive vs. Expressive Communication

There are 2 types of language skills-receptive and expressive. In individuals with disabilities, receptive and expressive language skills often vary greatly in ability by individual. This is especially true for individuals with language disorders. Individuals with language disorders, often have better receptive language skills. Even for individuals that are higher functioning expressive language can be difficult. It is important to work on both expressive and receptive language and build both skills equally. Even individuals that cannot talk can and should be working on expressive language. Many people often confuse the two types of language.

Receptive language is the ability to UNDERSTAND language. Receptive language is easier to develop and often individuals with language disorders have stronger receptive skills (but there is still often a delay). Receptive language is responding to the language of others. The ability to follow directions and identify things are examples of receptive language. Receptive language is easier for individuals with language disorders because they do not have to recall words. When asked a question or given a demand, the individual points to an object or picture. Even reading is a receptive skill. When the individual reads the word cat, they need to understand what the word cat is.

Expressive language is the ability to COMMUNICATE language. This does not have to be just verbally. It can be done with sign language or a communication device. Even writing is a form of expressive language. Expressive language involves making requests, giving information, and labeling things. Expressive language is more difficult because the individual has to recall the word or words they want to communicate and then be able to express. A lack of expressive language skills is often the cause of frustration and behavior in individuals with language disorders. This can also be seen in young toddlers. They tantrum because they are unable to express what they need, want, or are feeling.

Sometimes receptive and expressive language skills can seem very similar or are confused. Receptive language is identifying, and expressive language is recalling the word and communicating it. Below are some examples of each.

  • Letters (or any other rote skill)
    • Receptive-Point to the letter S. The individual points the S on the table.
    • Expressive-What letter is this? The individual says or signs S.
  • Positions
    • Receptive-The individual is told to touch the dog on the box. They touch the dog on the box.
    • Expressive-Where is the dog? The individual says on the box.
  • What says moo-
    • Receptive-the individual points to the cow on the table. The cow serves as a prompt to answer the question.
    • Expressive-the individual says the word cow, signs the word cow, goes through their communication device and finds the word or picture of the cow.

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