Receptive Language Delay: 5 Red Flags

Toddler Developmental MilestoneReceptive language delay is the inability to understand verbal (spoken) and nonverbal (written, gestural) language. Receptive language includes skills such as following directions, answering questions, responding to gestures, participating in conversation, and identifying age-appropriate vocabulary and concepts. A receptive language delay occurs when a child is achieving developmental milestones in the expected sequence, but is meeting them at a later age than his or her peers. How do you know when a child may have a receptive language delay? Here are some examples of
five red flags:

1. Difficulty Following Directions

Adult’s Input Expected Age of Mastery Red Flag Response/Action
“Bring me your cup” 12 months Bringing an undesired item, or no item at all
“Get your coat and put on your shoes” 24-36 months Bringing an undesired item, or no item at all

2. Difficulty answering questions

Adult’s Input Expected Age of Mastery Red Flag Response/Action
“More drink?” 12 months No gesture, vocalization, or word produced to indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’
“All done?” 12-24 months No vocalization, gesture, or word response produced

3. Difficulty understanding gestures and nonverbal cues

Adult’s Input Expected Age of Mastery Red Flag Response/Action
Reaching out arms for a hug 12 months No response to the prompt and gesture, continuing their desired activity
Holding up a hand for a high-five 24 months No response to the prompt and gesture, continuing their desired activity

4. Difficulty engaging in conversation

Adult’s Input Expected Age of Mastery Red Flag Response/Action
“Hi!” 12 months No vocalization, gesture, or word response produced
“What are you doing?” 24-36 months A verbal response, no response, or a gesture unrelated to the child’s activity

5. Difficulty identifying age-appropriate vocabulary and concepts

Adult’s Input Expected Age of Mastery Red Flag Response/Action
“I see an apple” 12-24 months Not following eye gaze or pointing finger to the object/picture
“Find the cow” 12-24 months Not following eye gaze or pointing finger to the object/picture

Keep in mind that all children are unique and the above ages of mastery are approximate!

Receptive language skills are essential for communication because they precede and provide a foundation for expressive language skills. For example, you can expect a child to understand what a cup is before producing the word ‘cup’. A child may demonstrate comprehension by following your gaze to a target item, pointing or reaching for a desired object, and following directions appropriately.

Click here to learn more about expressive v. receptive language!





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