Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

What is Developmental Language Disorder? 

Developmental language disorder (DLD) is a condition where children have long-term challenges talking and/or understanding words. 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.  

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

  • have a big impact on how well they do at school, or in everyday life;  
  • are not caused by another condition, such as hearing impairment or autism; and 
  • are not likely to get better by age five – their challenges are likely to be life-long.  

Most children with DLD will need support and changes to the environment at school to help them. Some people with DLD continue to need support when they are adults. 

Do we know the cause of DLD? 

We don’t know the exact cause of DLD. 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. 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.  

How common is DLD? 

Studies have shown that DLD affects about two children in every classroom in primary school. 

What sorts of challenges would a child with DLD have? 

Children with DLD can have a range of different skills and challenges and these can also change over time. Common challenges include: 

  • 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. 
  • Learning to read and write, and doing well at school- we need good communication skills to learn and do well in tests. 

But, despite these challenges, with the right support children with DLD can do well at school, both with their learning, and with making friends. They just learn differently. Knowing their best learning style and getting the right support is therefore very important so they can live full and happy lives.  

I’m worried about a child’s talking and understanding, what should I do?  

For a quick check of a child’s skills, you can use our progress checker.  Our progress checker is based on what we know about how babies and children develop skills. Choose the age of the child and then answer the questions. At the end, we will direct you to some helpful advice and resources. 

You can also access our free DLD resources, including a series of webcasts, a DLD guide and a training PowerPoint template that you can use in your school here.

We have a free speech and language advice line, which is a confidential phone call with an experienced speech and language therapist. During the 30-minute call, you will be given the opportunity to talk through your concerns and questions regarding a child’s development. You can book your phone call here. 

Where can I find out more about DLD? 

Watch our DLD video and learn more about DLD here.

For more information and advice about DLD, take a look at RADLD’s website.