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What is Developmental Language Disorder? (DLD)

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD for short) is a lifelong condition that makes understanding and/or speaking difficult. It is a neurodevelopmental condition which means that there are differences in brain development existing from birth. The cause of DLD is not known and it cannot be explained by another health condition.

DLD is a hidden disability. People with DLD make more errors, use simpler sentences or even have trouble organising a conversation. These problems are not always obvious to the non-specialist (RADLD, 2021).

DLD used to be called ‘specific language impairment (SLI)’, expressive-receptive language disorder or speech-language impairment, however the term was changed internationally in 2017 when a group of leading professionals met and decided on a universal, worldwide name for the disorder (Bishop et al., 2016; 2017).

Children with DLD can have difficulties with their receptive language (understanding) or expressive language skills, or both. They can have difficulties understanding and processing what people are saying to them, following instructions, understanding concepts, understanding in the classroom, and expressing their thoughts, ideas and feelings. DLD starts to become apparent in early childhood, however there are many adolescents and adults who have undiagnosed DLD due to the hidden nature of the disorder and the fact that many children mask the symptoms.

DLD is common, and recent research indicates that around 2 children in every classroom (or about 7.5 percent), have DLD. DLD is a co-occurring disorder and can occur alongside learning disorders such as dyslexia and ADHD.

DLD can be diagnosed following an assessment by a Speech Pathologist. Other terms such as ‘language disorder’ may also be used to describe the same difficulties and fall under the same umbrella as DLD, however can be attributable by other health conditions (such as autism spectrum disorder). In this case, the challenges are reported as ‘language disorder’ due to the presence of another condition.

DLD is lifelong which means that it persists through to adulthood and can affect social and emotional wellbeing and academic achievement. However, support is available and the symptoms can be significantly decreased with appropriate scaffolds and with the support of regular therapy and personal advocacy.

Children, teens and adults with DLD have a number of strengths just like each and every one of us. Their brain learns differently, like each and every one of us, so it’s important to understand and celebrate strengths and use this to support areas of difficulty.

Concerned that your child has DLD?

Speak to a speech pathologist for more information or consult the following trusted resources:

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