What is it?

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is diagnosed when children have long-term difficulties in understanding and/or using language. Their language difficulties have a significant impact, for example, on their progress in school or their social relationships.

Children with DLD are all different, so they can have different strengths and needs, and these can change as they grow older. Children with DLD may have difficulties with:

  • Understanding what is said to them
  • Answering questions
  • Learning new words
  • Putting words together to form sentences
  • Reading
  • Playing with others

Speech and Language Therapists can assess children’s communication skills and give a diagnosis of DLD.

What causes it?

There is no known cause of DLD. It is not explained by another biomedical condition such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or hearing loss. It is not caused by emotional difficulties, lack of exposure to language or learning more than one language.

DLD can happen alongside other conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and speech sound difficulties.

Younger children can be diagnosed with DLD, but it is not usually diagnosed until children are over 5 years old.

DLD affects about 2 children out of every class of 30.

DLD is a lifelong condition, but children can have happy and successful lives with the right supports in place.

General Advice to Help Children with DLD

  • Gain their attention first before giving important information or instructions, e.g. get down to their level, say their name and wait for them to appear ready to listen
  • Use short, simple sentences. Break longer instructions down into steps and give them in the order they need to be completed, e.g. ‘put your book away. Then sit on the carpet’
  • Slow your rate of speech so that they have more time to process what was said
  • Use pictures, objects, signs as well as speech. Show them what they have to do. Use all of their senses to explore new words and ideas, e.g. look, touch, smell, move it
  • Link new words to words that they already know
  • Use comments more than questions! Questions can be harder to process and test children rather than teach them language. Comment on what they are doing using short simple language
  • If they make grammatical errors, repeat back what they say using the correct grammar, e.g. if they said ‘him digged’, repeat it back as “yes he dug a hole”
  • Add to what they say. Repeat what they said back to them and add to it, for example, if they say ‘boy jumping’, repeat it back and extend it: “the boy is jumping high”

There is a lot of advice on our website for supporting specific areas of children’s communication skills. See the ‘Resources’ section for advice sheets. There are also training videos and workshops on supporting different areas of children’s language skills in the ‘Training section.

Find out more

Speech and Language UK: https://speechandlanguage.org.uk

DLD and Me: https://dldandme.org

Raising Awareness of DLD: https://radld.org