receptive language

What is receptive language? (All you need to know)

Posted on
February 14, 2023
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Communication skills incorporate both receptive and expressive language skills. While expressive language is the ability to use language to communicate with others, receptive language is the ability to demonstrate understanding of the world around you, including understanding words and language. You can read more about expressive and receptive language in our blog.

In this blog, we’ll explore more on what is receptive language, receptive language skills and receptive communication.

What are some examples of receptive language and how challenges can manifest

Receptive language starts at birth when infants start becoming aware of the sounds around them. Their response based on this understanding can be in the form of crying or showing that they are startled by shaking their head. As the infant becomes a toddler and then a child and adolescent and receptive language issues emerge and persist, they will have trouble answering questions, listening and attending to tasks, auditory processing (the ability to distinguish between sounds and words in the environment ), trouble following directions, and engaging in a reciprocal conversation with others.

What are the 3 receptive communication skills?

  1. Following simple to multistep directions and answering your "w" questions i.e. who, what, where, and why.
  2. Understanding of words. Like concepts that help us talk about time.
  3. Inferencing and making predictions based off of a story or picture. For example, showing a green light and asking, "what does it mean?". Go!

receptive communication skills
Receptive communication skills

What is receptive language in autism and how it can appear as ASD

When thinking about receptive language skills, it is important to also think about how receptive language skills manifest in individuals with ASD or social communication challenges. This can also be referred to as pragmatic receptive language skills.

Children who are having social communication difficulties will have difficulty understanding the meaning of what is being said in different contexts, due to context blindness or the inability to differentiate communication in different situations (place, person and environment). They will also have difficulty understanding figurative language and often take it literally. Additionally, often when reading or when engaging in conversation it is often difficult for children to “read between the lines” and understand that which isn’t directly stated to them.

What is receptive language in childcare and how to improve receptive skills

There are many ways that parents and speech and language professionals can support the receptive language of their children or the individuals that they are working with. If a child is having difficulty with understanding directions, it is important to simplify your language and repeat the direction.

For example instead saying “Close the door and sit in your seat,” you can alter the multi-step directive to “close door, then sit in seat.” It is also important to use temporal terms such as before, after, next, then to facilitate an understanding of sequence of directives as well as concepts related to time. It is also useful, even within the context of directives, to check for understanding. This means that you can ask your child/student to paraphrase or repeat what you said to them/asked them to do.

If you know the child is having trouble understanding what they are reading or what is being said, visuals can be used to represent text ; breaking down the text and putting related visuals in sequence can help a child learn through visual models. Another useful tool is having the child/student highlight key details in the text they are reading, while providing  them with graphic organisers to organise main idea, details, and other pertinent information.

Sharon Baum
Clinical Director, United States and M.A. CCC-SLP
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