How Applied Behavioral Analysis Can Help Children with Receptive Language Disorder 

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Being the parent of a child with a language disorder can be challenging. Communicating with kids is never easy in the best of circumstances. Throw in a language processing disorder, and the stakes become high. It’s not just a question of whether or not the child listens at home. Receptive language disorder can have a significant impact on the child’s ability to learn at school.  

Fortunately, there are ways for them to make progress and enjoy a successful academic experience. In this article, we take a look at how applied behavioral analysis can help children with language receptive disorder.  

What is Receptive Language Disorder? 

Receptive language disorder is a condition in which the sufferer struggles to understand other people’s verbal communication. It is primarily witnessed in children but can be observed in people from every age group.  

Effecting about 2% of the population aged six and under, receptive language disorder is classified as a developmental delay. However, it can have external causes, including head injury, stroke, or even hearing loss.  

The symptoms of receptive language disorder can manifest in many ways, including: 

  • A difficulty understanding jokes 
  • A hard time following instructions 
  • Spaciness 
  • Atypical verbal communication patterns 
  • Regular interruptions 

While these are symptoms that could describe a great quantity of six-year-olds at certain parts of the day, receptive language disorder is a chronic condition. If your child cannot overcome these symptoms in any circumstances, it may be indicative of a receptive language disorder.  

Can Receptive Language Disorder Be Cured? 

Though communication disorders can be very debilitating, they are also considered highly treatable. The general consensus is that the earlier you start treating receptive language disorder, the more effective your mitigation strategy will be.  

Keep in mind that receptive language disorder is a significant barrier not just to effective communication, but also productive learning. For your student to thrive in school, you need to develop a comprehensive and aggressive treatment strategy to help mitigate the symptoms.  

Below, we highlight how behavioral analysis can make a difference.  

What is Applied Behavioral Analysis? 

Applied behavioral analysis is the current gold standard for behavior correction therapy. Prior to the popular rise of applied behavioral analysis, “behavior modification,” was used to change undesirable behaviors.  

Behavior modification worked to modify actions through repetition, emphasizing the socially accepted actions until the patient finally ingrained said behavior into their own actions.  

Applied behavioral analysis is more utilitarian. It begins with an examination of the social function that the behavior in question exists to support. For example, in this context, the situation may be laid out as follows.  

“You suffer from receptive language disorder. Because you struggle to process verbal communication, you are falling behind in school. Your speech and language sessions teach valuable coping skills that can help you overcome your receptive language disorder. Therefore you need to BLANK.”  

It could be to work hard at your lessons. Try harder to listen in class. Practice what the professionals recommend with your parents. You get the point.  

Though quite effective, Applied Behavioral Analysis has come under some scrutiny, particularly by members of the autistic community for artificially establishing a “normal,” standard that people are then trained to adhere to.  

You may decide to approach ABA with a degree of caution. Nevertheless, it is a proven method of adjusting behavior that could produce significant results in your child’s life under the right circumstances.  

How it Helps 

To understand how behavioral analysis can help, it’s first important to understand how receptive language disorder is usually treated in the first place. There are no chemical or surgical corrections for this condition. It is typically handled through speech therapy— often administered at school through their special education resources.  

Most public schools will have a speech professional on staff. Even if yours does not have some staffed full-time, you are legally entitled to free, school-provided intervention.  

First, your child will be assessed to determine what they are experiencing and how it is a barrier to their education. That information will be distilled into what special educators call an IEP— individualized education program.  

Parents should understand that a child who is in special ed does not necessarily have an intellectual disability. SPED exists to help students with all variety of learning disabilities.  

Your child’s IEP will indicate: 

  • What their barriers to learning are. In this case, that would be their receptive language disorder.  
  • What their educational objectives are. In other words, what sort of progress do they hope to make in view of the child’s disability? 
  • What accommodations are necessary? Is there anything that can be done in the classroom to make their educational experience easier and more effective? 

The speech therapist will work with the student to overcome their receptive language disorder, while all possible efforts will be made by the SPED department to ensure that their learning proceeds as smoothly as possible in the meantime.  

Even despite all of the educational infrastructure working within this process, it is delicate, requiring participation from the student.  

Applied behavioral analysis can help to assess and modify the child’s behavior to encourage active and fruitful participation. 


It’s a lot to deal with. However, children with receptive language disorder can make significant progress. The key is to identify the problem and take all possible actions to correct that. Applied behavioral analysis alone may not make a difference. 
However, working in conjunction with other resources, it can be a valuable tool, helping your child to make progress and find success in school.  

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At SensoryEdge our focus is to educate, inform, and inspire each person caring for children to be and do their very best. It is not always easy and sometimes we don't take action (or we take the wrong action) because of a lack of understanding the real issues. We hope that the conversations that occur here will help in some small way better the lives of children, their families, and the professionals who work with them. We are always looking for valuable contributions to our site so if you are interested in becoming a contributor contact us.