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5 Important Facts Every SLP Needs to Know About DLD

Updated: Jan 24

Learn About This Life-long Language Disorder that is More Common than Autism.

1. 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 also be labeled as DLD.

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.

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

The Criteria and Terminology Applied to Language Impairments: Synthesizing the Evidence (CATALISE) Consortium, which is a group of a group of researchers, clinicians, and advocates for children with language problems, proposed “the term ‘language disorder’ for children who are likely to have language problems enduring into middle childhood and beyond, with a significant impact on everyday social interactions and educational progress.” (Bishop et al., 2017)

3. DLD affects about 2 children in every classroom.

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

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

4. Language development is very variable until the age of 4, but it stabilizes after that. Kids with language delays at 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. DLD Day aims to raise awareness about Developmental Language Disorder. 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 do so.

Dr. McGregor cited an additional study that corroborated this; according to McKean et al. (2017), 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 make reading comprehension and written expression much more difficult.

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

There is lots of information available if you want to learn more:

Great websites:

Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder


The DLD Project


The Talking DLD Podcast

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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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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