Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

What is DLD?

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is a term used to describe difficulties with learning and using language which will be long term. These difficulties are not associated with other conditions, such as cerebral palsy, or autistic spectrum disorders.  Previously, DLD was known as specific language impairment (SLI) but the name has changed so that it better reflects the types of difficulties children have.

DLD affects 7.58% of children (which equates to 2 children in a class of 30). This is more common than ASD.

What Causes DLD?

There is no known cause for DLD. Children with DLD might be bright and have lots of ideas but they struggle to understand spoken language and may find it hard to verbalise their ideas into sentences.

How is DLD Diagnosed?

Speech and Language Therapists have the specialist skills and knowledge to identify, assess and diagnose Developmental Language Disorder. For a child to be diagnosed with DLD they must have difficulties with language that persist into school age (and beyond).

What does DLD look like?

Developmental Language Disorder can present differently in each child, but they almost always have difficulty with understanding spoken language. They may also have difficulty with:

  • Listening, attention, memory and language processing
  • Saying what they want to, even though they have ideas
  • Finding the words they want to use
  • Joining in and following what is going on in the playground
  • Remembering the words they want to say
  • Social interaction including understanding jokes and non-literal language

It can sometimes be difficult to follow what they are saying. They won’t necessarily sound like a younger child but their speech might sound disorganised or unusual.

How can an SLT help?

Speech and Language Therapists can identify, assess and diagnose the communication difficulties. Once a child has been diagnosed, they can help in a range of ways:

  • Developing and delivering strategies and programmes of therapy to support a child with DLD.
  • Supporting schools to integrate strategies into the classroom in order to maximise children’s language learning 
  • Helping others e.g. teachers and parents in their use of communication techniques and communication friendly classrooms.
  • Raising awareness, educating and training professionals in identifying and working with children with DLD.
  • Supporting parents with what to expect following their child’s DLD diagnosis.

Individuals with DLD are also at risk of difficulties with reading and writing, and phonological awareness.  For example, knowing that ‘cat’ and ‘bat’ are different words because the first sound is different.

If unsupported, children and young people with DLD are at risk of developing psychological and social well-being difficulties. Early intervention can make a big difference to the child and it is important that they are supported within school (and potentially into employment).

For further information about DLD check out the RCSLT factsheet 

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