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6 Important Facts Every SLP Needs to Know About Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

Updated: Oct 1, 2023


If you are a school-based speech-language pathologist, you likely have many children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) on your caseload right now.


According to dldandme.org, DLD is a brain difference that makes talking and listening difficult and is 5 times more prevalent than autism.


Here are 6 important things you should know:


1. DLD affects about 2 children in every classroom.

That's roughly 1 in 14 students.



2. DLD Day is this Friday, October 20, 2023

DLD Day aims to raise awareness about Developmental Language Disorder.


Please help spread the word among your colleagues so that more kids who have this very common disorder can be identified and helped.


To help you do this, I've created a free fact sheet that you can share with other educators. There is both a color and black & white version, and it can also be shared digitally as a pdf. If you have any difficulty downloading it, please notify me by visiting my contact page and letting me know you'd like me to email you a copy.

infographic about DLD for educators

3. DLD is a persistent, life-long language impairment that can cause academic and social problems.

Signs of DLD first appear in early childhood, but those signs sometimes go unnoticed.


Kids with DLD may exhibit:

  • problems finding the right words, expressing ideas, talking about events, or answering questions

  • problems remembering and understanding academic information and/or following directions

  • problems paying attention

  • problems using language to socialize with others

  • problems with written language

Currently, there are no norm-referenced tests available for diagnosing DLD in adults, however a diagnosis can still be accomplished through the use of spoken and written language assessment tasks and a review of the individual's developmental and educational history.


4. Language development can be variable until the age of 4, but it stabilizes after that. Kids who have language delays at the age of 5 are likely to continue to have difficulties with language as they grow.

I recently watched a webinar that was done as a fundraising event for DLD Day on October 14, 2022. Dr. Karla McGregor, who is a leader in DLD advocacy, was the speaker.


Dr. McGregor cited a large population study (Ukoumunne et al., 2011) that found that language development trajectories are highly variable between the ages of 8 months and 4 years; within this window, young kids may develop language at an average rate, a precocious rate, or a delayed rate (the study even differentiated subsets within these groups that were a mixture).


After age 4, however, developmental trajectories stabilize, meaning that kids who are performing below average will likely continue to perform below average.


Dr. McGregor cited another study by McKean et al. in 2017, which found that 94% of kids’ language development trajectories remain stable from the age of 4 to the age of 11. Their rate of growth will be parallel -- almost all kids’ language skills will advance and mature -- but the gap between kids with DLD versus typical language developers will remain.



5. Students with DLD are at risk for reading, writing, and math problems.

While DLD and dyslexia are distinct problems with different root causes, they can co-occur. In addition, the language comprehension and expressive language problems that come with DLD can make reading comprehension and written expression much more difficult.


According to the dldproject.com, “children with DLD are 4 times more likely to have math disabilities and 6 times more likely to have reading disabilities.”



6. The label of Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), and what it should encompass, has been a subject of debate but is gaining traction.

Historically, there have been differing opinions about what we should call language impairments and which types of impairments should be included under these labels.


For some, Specific Language Impairment, or SLI, is considered as a separate and identifiable subgroup of Developmental Language Disorder, whereas others consider these terms to be synonymous.


Another debate involves whether language impairments that co-occur with other diagnoses (e.g., ASD or ADHD) should be labeled as DLD. This chart, from the University of Western Ontario, provides guidance on "the differential diagnosis of ‘Developmental Language Disorder’ (DLD) from ‘Language Disorder associated with {X}’".


Despite these debates, there is clear value in unifying around one term, given that this is such a common and significant problem for so many children and adults, combined with the need for more public awareness, and funding for research.


There is lots of information available about Developmental Language Disorder if you want to learn more:

Great websites:

The University of Western Ontario's DLD Toolbox


Podcasts:

DLD-specific episodes (15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 26, 32, 47) of the SeaHearSpeak Podcast


Jeanne Tighe, SLPD, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL has developed this free guide for parents and families.




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References:

Bishop, D. V. (2017). Why is it so hard to reach agreement on terminology? The case of developmental language disorder (DLD). International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 52(6), 671- 680.


Bishop, D. V., Snowling, M. J., Thompson, P. A., Greenhalgh, T., & The CATALISE Consortium. (2016).

CATALISE: A multinational and multidisciplinary Delphi consensus study. Identifying language impairments in children. PLoS One, 11(7), e0158753.


Bishop, D. V., Snowling, M. J., Thompson, P. A., Greenhalgh, T., & The Catalise‐2 Consortium. (2017).

Phase 2 of CATALISE: A multinational and multidisciplinary Delphi consensus study of problems with language development: Terminology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(10), 1068-1080.


McKean C, Reilly S, Bavin EL, Bretherton L, Cini E, Conway L, Cook F, Eadie P, Prior M, Wake M, Mensah F. Language Outcomes at 7 Years: Early Predictors and Co-Occurring Difficulties. Pediatrics. 2017 Mar;139(3):e20161684. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-1684. Epub 2017 Feb 8. PMID: 28179482.


Ukoumunne OC, Wake M, Carlin J, Bavin EL, Lum J, Skeat J, Williams J, Conway L, Cini E, Reilly S. Profiles of language development in pre-school children: a longitudinal latent class analysis of data from the Early Language in Victoria Study. Child Care Health Dev. 2012 May;38(3):341-9.

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