Have you heard of Developmental Language Disorder?

Did you know that approximately 1 in 14 children have a hidden condition known as Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)? DLD occurs when a person has difficulties understanding and/or using spoken language for no known reason. It often presents in early childhood as difficulties learning new words, finding it hard to put words together or telling a story. Children with DLD often go on to have challenges with school and learning to read.

Signs of DLD

Children with DLD are as intelligent as their peers, but may experience difficulties with:

  • understanding instructions
  • answering questions
  • learning new words
  • putting words together to speak in sentences
  • reading
  • writing sentences
  • telling stories
  • playing with others

A child with DLD may struggle to follow instructions (i.e. “Before you hop in the car, I want you to go and get your school bag”) and use shorter and simpler sentences when speaking (i.e. “She kick ball” instead of “She kicked the ball”).  They may also present with other co-occurring difficulties such as: dyslexia, ADHD, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and developmental coordination disorder/dyspraxia.

What can you do if you have concerns?

We hear from children with DLD that they often feel invisible and misunderstood. They also report feeling that their abilities are grossly underestimated. I always recommend an assessment by a speech pathologist to ensure the strengths and areas of need are clearly identified for a child with DLD. 

If you don’t have a speech pathologist at your school, you can use Speech Pathology Australia’s Find a Speech Pathologist page or Google speech pathology services in your local area.  Families can self-refer to many speech pathology services, but they may also like to speak to their GP who can help them access a Chronic Disease Management plan through Medicare. Write down your concerns about your child’s language, literacy and learning to share with the speech pathologist. 

How to support a child with DLD?

Children with DLD are very capable of learning when they receive the right support.

At home, consider how you can make language hands on and visible.  Otherwise as quickly as we speak, the words simply disappear! Try drawing picture, demonstrating how to do something or writing down the words. When giving instructions, clue the child in to what you are able to say, slow down and chunk the information in the order they need to do the task. Give them time to process what they’ve heard and encourage them to ask for repetition or clarification.

At school. it is important for teachers and speech pathologists to collaborate to support their learning.  Teachers are experts in delivering the curriculum in a classroom setting, while speech pathologists have key skills in language and literacy development.  Developing a plan and working together with the family will be key to the success of students with DLD.  While DLD isn’t as visibly present as a hearing aid or a wheelchair, there is still a lot that can be done to make adjustments in the classroom setting. There is FREE training available for teachers and families at The DLD Project website: https://thedldproject.com/course/what-is-language-what-is-dld/.

Become a DLD Advocate at your place of work

On Friday 15 October 2021, we celebrated DLD Awareness Day.  The theme this year is #ThinkLanguage #ThinkDLD and we want people from all around the world to come together and raise awareness for the 1 in 14 people with DLD.

You can access further information, resources and training about DLD, at www.theDLDproject.com.

Shaun Ziegenfusz is a speech pathologist, Lecturer and PhD candidate at Griffith University and Co-Founder of The DLD Project. He is also a member of the Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder International (RADLD) Committee. Shaun is passionate about blending clinical experience and research to support children with DLD and their families.