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Developmental Language Disorder

Language is something we use all dayevery dayto order a coffee, buy a train ticketor to catch up about what we did at the weekend. It’s easy to take language for granted. 

However, for some children (and adultstalking and understanding language is more difficult.   

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is a lifelong disability that affects roughly two children in each classroom.

It can cause difficulties with talking and/or understanding languageA person with DLD might find it difficult to organise their ideas into a conversation, they may use simpler sentences, or make more errors in talking. It can impact on literacy skills, learning, friendships, and emotional wellbeing.

DLD may occur with difficulties in other areas of development and commonly occurs alongside Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia. It affects people from all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.

The cause of DLD is not yet known, but we do know that sometimes DLD can run in families. DLD is not caused by families talking less to their children or speaking more than one language. 

A diagnosis of DLD is based on information gathered from professionals looking at how well a child understands and uses spoken and written language, as well as the impact this has on them in their daily life.  

What is the impact of DLD? 

Literacy skills may be affected by DLD, as spoken language forms the foundations needed for readingwriting, and spelling

Language difficulties might not be immediately apparent and may be considered a ‘hidden disability’. Children with DLD may be quiet or passive in the classroom and which means that there is a risk they may get ‘missed’. Some children with DLD may show behaviours such as fighting with other children, withdrawal, and isolation.   

Children with DLD may learn better through visual and/or practical methods, rather than verbally. So, watching a story being acted out may support them in understanding it more easily or they may learn better through a multi-sensory experience.   

Language is key to establishing relationships with other people, so DLD can also impact on the ability to make relationships. DLD can even impact on future employment opportunities.   

Where can you get help? 

Support from professionals, including speech and language therapists and teachers can make a real difference to a child with DLD. With the right support, an individual with DLD can achieve social, academic, and professional success. 

Tips to support a child with DLD

  • Encourage the child to communicate with you however they canThis includes nodding, pointing, using facial expressionetc
  • Use visual cues (such as gestures and pictures, acting things out)to help them understand and remember information
  • Get the child’s attention by sayingtheir name before asking questions or giving instructions, so they know they must listen
  • Use simple sentences and short instructions. Keeping information short and simple will help the child understand and remember it
  • Check they have understood instructions or new information
  • Wait and give the child extra time. They may need more time to think, find their words and express themselves
  • Praise their effort and acknowledge what they’ve said, to support their confidence in speaking. 

Why is raising awareness important? 

There is a limited awareness of DLD amongst the public. Increasing awareness of DLD can help by motivating policy makers, funding agencies, educators, and healthcare providers to pay attention to DLD, understand it better, and remove barriers. Better recognition of DLD in schools could allow children’s skills to be developed, allowing individuals to support themselves. 

More information

For more information about DLD visit the Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder (RADLDcharity website or their YouTube channel.

Visit our support and advice pages for strategies on how to help your child communicate.

If you have any concerns about your child’s development, you can contact your child’s teacher or the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator or visit our website for support and advice and details of how to make a referral to speech and language therapy. 

DLD training is offered for schools by Moor House DLD training and ICAN has a guide for schools.  

Liz Luckey, SLT, Chloe Lewis & Rachel Harris, Student SLTs (University of Reading) 


About the author

Liz Luckey is a Speech and Language Therapist for Berkshire Healthcare, Chloe Lewis and Rachel Harris are Student SLTs at the University of Reading