Language disorders Aphasia

  • Aphasia is a disorder of language resulting from damage to the parts of the brain that manage language. Aphasia affects a child's ability to use words to express ideas and to understand the speech of other people. A speech pathologist can diagnose language disorders and teach your child strategies to help.

    What are language disorders?

    Language disorders after brain injury are commonly referred to as aphasia. Aphasia can affect all aspects of a child's language such as thinking of the right word, using the correct grammar when they talk or write and understanding what they hear or read.

    The most common cause of aphasia is stroke. Traumatic brain injury, brain tumours and some diseases can also cause aphasia. The nature and severity of the problem is different for each child depending on the amount and location of the damage to the brain.

    Receptive language disorders

    Receptive language is a child's ability to understand and process spoken or written language. Children may experience some or all of the following problems:

    • following directions or completing instructions
    • understanding long or complex sentences
    • understanding the meaning and context of words and sentences
    • recognising the difference between sounds
    • they may appear to be not listening or ignoring you most of the time
    • they may not keep up with classmates, either with school work or socially
    • they may have behavioural problems or be acting up in class
    • they may be easily distracted or drift off when listening to speech or stories
    • they may appear to be forgetful. For example, they only complete part of an instruction or remember part of a shopping list

    Expressive language disorders

    Expressive language is a child's ability to express themselves and get their meaning across through speaking or writing. Children may experience some or all of the following problems:

    • poor sentence or grammatical structure
    • limited content in their speech
    • confused meaning and grammar
    • they generally use short, simple sentences
    • difficulty coming to the point
    • problems starting or participating in conversations
    • difficulty recalling or retelling information
    • difficulty completing oral and written narratives and/or assignments
    • have trouble finding the right words


    A speech pathologist can assess if your child child is having language difficulties or other difficulties with speech and language development. If possible, it is most helpful for your child to see a paediatric speech pathologist experienced in looking after children with brain injury. Your local brain injury service will usually have a speech pathologist or can advise you how to find a suitable speech pathologist in your area.


    A speech pathologist does a formal language assessment to identify the specific problems and strengths your child may have. Input from a neuropsychologist can also help identify any other cognitive problems that can affect language.

    To start with, some children may need one-on-one therapy to manage and develop specific language skills. School based language intervention is also very useful to help your child develop skills and strategies to cope with their difficulties. Schools and special education teachers can help set up individualised education programs for children who have language difficulties. Support from a teacher's aide may also be needed for more severe language disabilities.

    Key points to remember

    • Aphasia is a language disorder that is a result of damage to the specific language centres of the brain.
    • The severity of the problem depends on the amount and location of the damage to the brain.
    • A speech pathologist can diagnose language disorders and help with developing strategies to help your child.

    For more information

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Paediatric Rehabilitation Service based on information from the Brain Injury Service at Westmead Children’s Hospital. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed September 2020.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit


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