Expressive Language Delay (ELD)

What is an Expressive Language Delay?

EExpressive language delay (ELD) is a broad diagnosis that simply means that a child is having trouble using language in some way, shape, or form. Since this diagnosis is so broad, each child with this diagnosis looks very different. Some have difficulty putting words together to form sentences. Some have difficulty using the correct vocabulary and words. Others have difficulty sequencing information together into a logical manner. There are all types of different expressive language symptoms and each one is treated quite differently.

Late Talkers

A child who is late to begin talking may be described as having an expressive language delay. For the young child who isn’t speaking yet, he has no expressive language (unless he is using sign language or another alternative means) so therapy is focused on increasing his ability to use language to communicate.


Many children with expressive language delays have trouble organizing their language so that what they say makes logical sense. They may have trouble sequencing past events when telling a story or putting steps to an activity in a logical order. This can make their conversation very difficult to follow.

Using Descriptors

Children with expressive language delay (ELD) can have difficulty using descriptors correctly. Descriptors like adjectives and adverbs can add color to our language and help us make our point more clearly, and in a more interesting manner. Children with ELD may either leave these words out all together or use them incorrectly.

Grammar Skills

Many children with expressive language delay also have trouble with using correct grammar. They may omit grammatical markers or use them incorrectly. These are the smaller words and word parts that string together the larger words to make meaningful sentences. Without these words, the child’s speech may sound telegraphic or choppy. Teaching proper grammar is also a great way to increase sentence length for a child who speaks in very short sentences.

Pragmatics / Social Skills

A child may be described as having an expressive language delay if they have trouble with social skills, also known as pragmatics. These children may have difficulty knowing what language to use to interact appropriately with other children.

Answering and Asking Questions

The ability to answer questions correctly requires quite a bit of language skills. First, the child has to understand what the question being asked means. Then, the child must process that question and formulate an answer. Finally, the child must speak that answer in a logical manner. Children with expressive language delay often have difficulty with this process. They may also have difficulty asking questions with correct word order and in a coherent manner.


Children with expressive language delay may also struggle to learn new words and expand their vocabularies. These children may need extra help to learn words, remember words, and recall them when they need to use them.

Figurative Language

Children with language delays often have difficulty understanding and using figurative language such as idioms, similes, and metaphors.

Making Inferences

Children with language delays often have difficulty making inferences about what’s going on around them or when they are reading.

Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is when a child has the ability to speak and will speak in at least one setting (usually home) but refuses to speak in another setting (usually school and/or in public). Treatment for selective mutism is very different from treatment for other speech and language delays.