Language Processing Disorder (LPD) in Adults: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

We’ve all experienced it: You’re talking with someone and suddenly, you can’t think of the word you want to say. Or perhaps you’re listening to someone tell a story, and after a few minutes you realize you have no idea what they’re talking about!

These instances can feel frustrating. But a person with language processing disorder has these problems regularly, and it can be downright distressing. 

What is language process disorder? 

Language processing disorder (LPD) is a brain-based condition that makes it hard for a person to express language and/or comprehend spoken language.

Much of the information published on LPD centers on children. However, adults can and do experience language processing disorders as well.

What causes language processing disorder?

Although researchers don’t know the exact cause of LPD, there does appear to be a hereditary link. About 40% of cases have a family connection, in which a relative also has LPD. LPD can also be caused by a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other type of brain damage.

LPD can occur during early childhood. However, it’s not unusual for a person to be diagnosed as an adult.

About 40% of LPD cases have a hereditary family connection.

It’s important to note that a LPD is not the result of bilingualism or a language difference. For example, a person who communicates easily in Spanish, but isn’t fluent in English, does not demonstrate a true LPD.

LPD isn’t always easy to diagnose. At times, individuals with LPD are diagnosed with ADHD or autism. Not having the correct diagnosis can be stressful. People with undiagnosed or incorrectly diagnosed LPD risk social isolation or being labeled as “lazy” or “problematic.” This can harm the person’s confidence and psychological well being. 

What are the types and signs of language processing disorder?

There are two basic forms of language disorders: expressive and receptive. 

People with expressive language disorders have trouble verbalizing their thoughts. Receptive language disorders affect a person’s ability to listen to and understand language. 

A person with LPD may have difficulty with both expressive and receptive language skills, or with just one of these areas.

Symptoms of expressive language disorder in adults

Expressive language disorders can affect communication with family, friends, and coworkers. An adult with an expressive language disorder may have these symptoms:

  • Finds it hard to put their thoughts into words

  • Trouble speaking spontaneously

  • Trouble producing grammatically complex sentences

  • Forgets words or says them out of order

  • Substitutes related words, even when they don’t mean the same thing (says “couch” instead of “chair,” or “beef” instead of “chicken”)

  • Struggles to keep up with small talk

  • Feels anxious about having to speak in front of people or give a presentation

  • Trouble answering a direct question, even if they know the answer

Symptoms of receptive language disorder in adults

An adult with a receptive language disorder may have difficulty with:

  • Following directions, such as multi-step verbal instructions

  • Understanding jokes or figurative language such as sarcasm

  • Understanding the point of a story 

  • Keeping up during meetings at work, especially if more than one person is talking

  • Interpreting conversation–for example, misinterpreting a friendly conversation as being rude

  • Answering questions in meetings

How are LPDs diagnosed?

Difficulty understanding or expressing language affects all areas of life, including obtaining work, socializing with others, or seeking medical care. LPDs can be extremely challenging for people who experience them. 

If you think you may have a language processing disorder, you can talk with your primary care doctor to explore any necessary imaging or evaluations. However, a speech-language pathologist, also called a speech therapist, can assess and diagnose an LPD.

Studies show that up to 70% of people with LPD see an improvement in language skills when participating in speech therapy.

During an evaluation, the speech therapist will perform comprehensive expressive and receptive language testing. They will also interview your close family and friends to learn how your language impairment is affecting your work and social life. The speech therapist will then work with you to create a treatment plan. 

Many research studies have shown that up to 70% of people with LPD see an improvement in language skills when participating in speech therapy. The sooner you begin speech therapy, the better the potential outcome!

How are language processing disorders treated?

Speech therapy plans will be customized to address the expressive and/or receptive language impairments revealed during the evaluation. Therapy should include education, compensatory strategies, and impairment-based tasks.

  • Education will involve learning about your specific deficits and how they affect your communication skills.

  • Compensatory strategies are techniques used to reduce the negative impact of a condition. You may learn word-finding strategies to help you generate words, or work on “speaking back” to improve how you process the verbal information you hear.

  • Impairment-based tasks include working on word choice and word order when formulating ideas, as well as listening to and understanding verbal information in gradually increasing length and complexity. 

If you have concerns about your language skills, don’t wait. Talk with your doctor or contact a speech therapist for an evaluation. You can sign up here to speak with a licensed speech therapist at Expressable. Share your concerns and ask your questions during a free consultation call. We’re here to support you!

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