Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is gaining understanding within the global community. DLD was previously known as Specific Language Impairment (SLI). It is a lifelong language disorder that affects the ability to communicate and use language effectively and is thought to impact up to 1 in 14 children. This means it is likely that there is at minimum 1 child in every classroom who is living with DLD.
DLD manifests in childhood with markers of delayed language development, is often diagnosed once children commence schooling where the demands on the language system increase and can have a significant impact on academic, social, and emotional development.
Characteristics of Developmental Language Disorder
Children with DLD often have difficulty understanding and using language in both oral and written forms. They may struggle to express themselves clearly, have trouble following directions, and have difficulty comprehending what others say.
Some common characteristics of DLD include:
- Late onset of language development
- Difficulty with grammar (markers such as tense, plurals, differing pronoun forms) and syntax (the word order within sentences and questions)
- Limited vocabulary
- Difficulty with reading and writing
- Difficulty with social interactions as a result of communication breakdown
- Difficulty with memory and recall
It is important to note that children with DLD can have varying degrees of severity in their symptoms. Some may have mild language difficulties while others may struggle significantly with communication.
The exact cause of DLD is unknown, but research suggests that it may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some possible causes of DLD include:
- Genetics: Studies have shown that DLD tends to run in families, indicating that genetics may play a role in its development.
- Brain differences: Brain imaging studies have revealed that children with DLD have differences in the structure and function of certain areas of the brain that are involved in language processing.
- Environmental factors: Exposure to certain toxins or infections during pregnancy, premature birth, and low birth weight may increase the risk of DLD.
- For NDIS purposes, it is best to describe DLD as a neurological condition. Information on how best to advocate for your child for funding purposes can be found at “The DLD Project”. Given that DLD is a life-long invisible lifelong disability, Therapist’s can advocate for long-term funding for children with this condition.
Diagnosis of Developmental Language Disorder
Diagnosing DLD can be challenging because it is often mistaken for other conditions such as hearing loss or autism. A comprehensive evaluation by a speech-language pathologist (SLP) is necessary to properly diagnose DLD. The evaluation typically includes a thorough assessment of the child’s language skills, including comprehension, expression, and social communication. The SLP will refer to other Specialists such as Audiologists and Psychologists to evaluate the child’s hearing and cognitive abilities. In order to warrant a diagnosis of DLD, other diagnoses such as Intellectual Impairment must be ruled out, as these may also affect language development.
There is a higher incidence of other co-occurring diagnoses in children with DLD including ; anxiety; depression; ADHD; speech sound disorder; Developmental Co-ordination Disorder; emotional and behavioural problems; Dyslexia/Dysgraphia/Dyscalculia.
Treatment of Developmental Language Disorder
Early intervention is key to improving outcomes for children with DLD. Treatment typically involves working with a speech-language pathologist to develop a customized therapy plan based on the child’s individual needs.
Some common strategies used to treat DLD include:
- Language therapy: Therapy sessions may focus on improving language comprehension, expression, and social communication skills. The therapist may use various techniques such as modeling, repetition, and visual aids to facilitate learning.
- Reading and writing intervention: Children with DLD may benefit from reading and writing intervention to improve their literacy skills.
- Parent involvement: Parents can play an important role in helping their child improve their language skills. The SLP may provide strategies for parents to use at home to reinforce the skills learned in therapy.
- An intervention program should include consultation with the child’s teaching team at School. DLD Australia can also be referred to provide additional resources and support.
Impact of Developmental Language Disorder
DLD can have a significant impact on a child’s academic, social, and emotional development. Children with DLD may struggle in school, particularly in subjects that require strong language skills such as reading and writing, or tasks that involve reasoning and predicting. Support for pragmatics (the social application of language) and building and maintaining friendships is an important component in their intervention. Dyads and group programs can be beneficial. Some young children might benefit from individualised visual supports to aid them in planning and organising language too.
With the right support and intervention, people with DLD can go on to lead successful and fulfilling lives.
If you want to learn more about DLD, these are fantastic resources to access: