Myth-busting: Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

August 1, 2023

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD, previously known as Specific Language Impairment) is a diagnosis given to children (and adults) who have challenges with talking and understanding words that will be long-term, but that are not associated with other conditions such as cerebral palsy, hearing impairment or autism.

DLD affects about two children in every classroom in primary school (about 7.6% of all children). Children with DLD may have lots of ideas but find it hard to put their ideas into words and understand what other people say to them. Their difficulties can be hard to spot and may be ‘hidden’ for a long time, because:

  • Children with DLD often have difficulties in other areas too, like reading, making friends and following rules.
  • DLD is not a well-known condition – lots of people don’t know that it exists or what it is.
  • DLD looks different across different children.
  • Children who have DLD may be bright and able in many ways, despite having DLD.
  • Children with DLD may learn ways to cope with their difficulties, such as by copying what their peers do, which can make their challenges harder to spot.

Myth 1: ‘Children with DLD have difficulties in all areas of speech, language and communication development’

Children with DLD may have difficulty in one or more of the areas below:

  • paying attention and listening to what others say to them
  • understanding words and sentences – so they may struggle to follow instructions, answer questions and understand what others say to them
  • talking using words and sentences, putting words in the right order and using the correct grammar
  • knowing how to use their communication skills socially with others, for example to have conversations and to make friends.

Myth 2: ‘poor parenting causes DLD’

DLD looks different in all children and can be complicated to understand because we don’t really know the cause. Scientists think that the part of the brain responsible for development of speech, language and communication skills might be wired a little differently in these children,  but the differences are subtle and won’t show up on a brain scan.

We also know that genes play an important part in DLD because the condition is more likely to run in families, but there is no medical test to see if a child has it or not. Parents should NOT feel guilty if their child has DLD, as it is most likely due to a range of different factors beyond their control. What is important to know is that children with DLD can do very well in life, but it’s important that their needs are understood so that they can be well-supported.

Myth 3: ‘it’s impossible to get a diagnosis’

A child can be diagnosed with DLD if their challenges with talking and understanding words:

  • are likely to be long-term carry on into adulthood
  • have a significant impact on the child’s communication and learning in everyday life
  • are not related to another condition like cerebral palsy or autism.

Myth 4: ‘they’ll grow out of it’

Children with DLD have lifelong challenges with talking and understanding words. That means they won’t ‘grow out of it’ or catch up to their peers. However, children and young people with DLD can do very well in life as long as they are well-supported.

Speech and language therapists can teach strategies to children with DLD and those around them, which aim to reduce the impact of their difficulties and develop their skills to their maximum potential.

What next?

If you are concerned about your child’s talking and understanding of words, you can talk to your health visitor, your child’s school or your local speech and language therapy service.  You can also use our free progress checker to check your child’s development against what’s expected for their age and get some useful advice.

Interested in reading more?

Developmental Language Disorder | RADLD