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Expressive and Receptive Language and Complex Learners

Facilitating Language Development at Home

Rachel Frady, MS, CCC-SLP 

Language refers to the structured system of spoken and written words combined in a meaningful way to understand and communicate with academic and social contexts. A language-based learning environment is inherent to the Wolf School Immersion Model©, but how can caregivers continue to support the development of expressive and receptive language skills at home? 

Below are some easy-to-implement tips you can start using today.  

Expressive language encompasses an individual’s ability to communicate thoughts and feelings through words, gestures, signs, or symbols. You can help your child develop this critical skill by following some of the tips below!

Smiles and laughs = learning! 

The best and most organic language growth happens when children feel regulated and happy. Help your child feel at ease by reducing some of the pressure they may associate with communicating  

Movement = language development

The vestibular and auditory systems work together as they process sensations of movement and sound. Movement activates language so get moving with your child – swing, ride bikes, walk together, etc. 

Provide wait time

Allow your child extra time to organize his or her thoughts, and remind them, “It’s okay if you need a little more time to think!” 

Reimagine “how was school today?”

This question is often too open-ended and results in a scripted, one-worded response with little content. Instead, get more specific and prompt, “Tell me one thing you learned about today” or “Tell me one friend you played with today!” 

Vary your questions

When extracting more language, ask questions like, “what category is it?”, “what does it do?” or who, what, where, when, or why questions. The Expanding Expressions Tool is an excellent strategy to probe for more language 


Model quality language by recasting what your child says and emphasizing correct grammar. For example, if your child says, “Me go to the sensory arena today,” respond with, “You went to the sensory arena today? What did you do in the sensory arena?” 

Learn new words

Explicitly teach the meanings of new words with simplified language. Connect new words to personal experiences that your child can relate to. Pair visuals, act words out, and repeat new words as much as possible 

Compare and contrast

If you are shopping and deciding between two items, expand language by asking your child how two items are the same and how they are different. For example, “Both of these shoes are comfortable, but I like how these ones light up!” 

Provide fill-in-the-blanks

Providing sentence starters with a fill-in-the-blank format may decrease anxiety and allow your child to use what they know to finish a sentence

Pretend to forget

Practice recalling and sequencing events by having your child explain the process of something. For example, “I forgot what happened in that Harry Potter movie, can you remind me?”

Receptive language refers to the information a person attends to and understands through sounds, words, movements, gestures, signs, and symbols. Receptive language is integral in learning new information and accessing the academic and social worlds around us.  Read on to discover how you can help your child develop this language skill at home.

Simplify your language

Ensure that your sentences are concise, clear, and meaningful 

Allow more time than you think

Allow your children extra time to listen to, think about, and process language 

Set your child up for success

Many children with language difficulties experience low self-esteem. Sometimes, it is better to shift focus from challenging a child to increasing their confidence. Ask questions you know they can answer to help them feel successful

Consider the auditory environment

Caregivers naturally tune out sensory information that neurodiverse individuals often pick up on. Think about sounds that could be capturing your child’s attention. Without attention, there is no comprehension 

Make it visual or hands-on

Visuals are a key to unlocking understanding. Keep a whiteboard and dry-erase marker handy. When oral language is not working, draw pictures, watch videos, make it hands-on, or provide visual choices  

Provide choices

If your child is having difficulty answering questions, they may be able to recognize a correct answer from a field of choices 

Eye contact

Offer eye contact, but don’t require it. Some children benefit from looking at your face and mouth to improve their comprehension, while others find it extremely uncomfortable and distracting

Use an expressive tone of voice

Speak with rich intonation, modify your tone of voice to match emotions, and pair your message with body language 

Target following directions

Many children with language difficulties have trouble following multi-step directions or directions containing complex concepts like, “Clean your room after you eat dinner”. Simplify directions using “first this, then this” language or ask your child to repeat directions back to you to ensure understanding 

Ask “wh” questions

Start with asking what, who, and where questions. Once your child comprehends those, move on to when and why questions. Guide your child to the correct answer by reminding them of the type of information each question is asking for. For example, a when question is about a time, and a where question is about a place 

Encourage self-advocacy

Let your child know it’s okay to not understand something and teach them language to use if they are confused, such as, “I’m a little confused, can you explain that to me in a different way?”  

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