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Developmental Language Disorder — Causes, Signs, and Treatment

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The ability to communicate, whether through gestures, body language, or verbally is a skill that allows us to express our needs, thoughts, and wants. This is very important no matter what setting we are in; school, community, or the home environment.

Understanding and utilizing language is not easy for everyone; especially those individuals who have been diagnosed with developmental language disorder (DLD).

DLD is a hidden, but very common condition affecting about 1 out of 15 children. DLD has been given different names in the past, which has sometimes made it confusing for professionals to talk about the condition and for children with DLD to get help.

Researchers are currently studying what factors cause DLD, the different types of language characteristics are seen in those with DLD, and how children with DLD can successfully be treated.

Identifying the Red Flags for Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

If your child shows these red flags, or you are concerned about other aspects of your child’s speech and language development, contact a speech-language pathologist.

AgeSigns
1 year– No reaction to sound
– No babbling
– Difficulty feeding
– No imitation
– Limited use of gestures
2 years– Minimal attempts to communicate with gestures or words
– No first words
– Difficulty following simple directions
– Inconsistent response to “no”
3 years– Limited use of speech
– Speech is not understandable
– Limited understanding of simple questions
– Difficulty naming objects
– Frustration related to communication

What is DLD?

Developmental Language Disorder, or DLD for short, is a very common disorder where children have difficulty using/understanding language. Children who are diagnosed with this disorder fall behind their peers in their academic studies, even though they have equal intelligence.

Due to the fact that they have difficulty with language, they may also start exhibiting issues with making friends, socialization, talking about their feelings, and learning. Even though DLD is typically diagnosed early in life, it can often go undetected, so there can be adults with this disorder who have never been treated.

Why is it Called Developmental Language Disorder?

Throughout history, language problems in children have been given many different names.

For example, these children have been said to have a “specific language impairment,” a “language delay,” or a “language disorder,” among other labels. Because there are so many different types of labels, it has made it difficult for psychologists, doctors, and speech pathologists to discuss because everyone used different names. 

1 in 15 children

are affected by developmental
language disorder.

DLD can often go undetected
and it can affect socialization and
academic success.

Experts soon began to agree that the term, “language disorder,” should be utilized to describe severe language deficits that would not disappear. Many children have a language disorder, as well as another developmental disorder like Down’s syndrome or Autism.

Other children, for example, have a language disorder with no other impairment. For these children, the term developmental language disorder should be applied. 

Why Do Some Children Have Developmental Language Disorder?

This question can be very complicated. We do not have much research on this topic, so it’s difficult to determine causes and prognoses. Researchers are deducing that the cause is due to several different reasons:

  1. Biology and make-up of the child might play a role in whether a child develops the disorder. DLD often runs in families, meaning that the genes a child gets from his or her parents may influence whether that child has DLD. The way that a child’s brain is comprised may also play a role in how certain areas of the brain interact with other areas. 
  2. We all know that every child is different, which means the way they learn and perceive information is different. This is known as cognition. Some children think quickly, while other children take longer to process. Some have great memories and can recall everything and others forget what they heard five seconds ago. These differences may play a role in the development of DLD.
  3. The environment that a child grows up in may also be a contributing factor. A child’s environment can either increase or decrease the risk of the child having DLD. There are some people who believe that a child will have DLD if his or her parents do not talk to the child enough — this is not true.

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What Kind of Language Problems Exist with DLD?

We can all agree that language is tough to learn. Due to its complexity, there are many different ways that language can be impaired. A child who is diagnosed with DLD will have a very specific and unique profile, meaning that he or she will face a personal language challenge. 

Although every child is different, researchers are determining key language problems that are present in all children with DLD.

  1. Most of these children display difficulty with grammar. For example, a child with DLD might say, “he goes outside yesterday” instead of “he went outside yesterday.” A child with DLD might say “I walking to school,” instead of “I am walking to school.” In this sentence, the child has not included the form of the verb “to be” that fits in this sentence.
  2. Children diagnosed with DLD have difficulty producing sounds correctly. These children may say “sing” instead of “swing.” They may also say things like “nana” instead of “banana.”
  3. DLD will prohibit a child from learning the vocabulary the same as a typically developing child. Very young children who have DLD may also start speaking later than their same-aged peers. When a child  finally learns a word, it may be hard for them to repeat it or use it again in context. In addition, they may have difficulty understanding that words have multiple meanings. For example, the word “son” can mean a male child. The word “sun” is pronounced the same, but means a star in the sky that provides light. 
  4. Children with DLD might have trouble staying on topic, taking turns in a conversation, or understanding long sentences. These children may have trouble sharing information and telling stories. These are all part of social language. The difficulty for children with DLD is that they can’t relate how they are feeling to others. This can cause frustration and anger when they don’t mean for that to happen.  

How Does a Child with Developmental Language Disorder Get Help?

Professionals such as Speech-Language Pathologists will play a huge role in your child’s success. It’s important to get someone to realize that they really are problems so your child can get the therapy that will benefit them the most. 

Although many children with Developmental Language Disorder will always have language skills that fall behind their peers, getting help can maximize a child’s communication and learning potential. 

There is a large amount of evidence showing that providing help, also called ‘an intervention,’ for children with DLD can be very effective and can improve that child’s language skills.

Understanding and utilizing language is not easy for everyone; especially those individuals who have been diagnosed with developmental language disorder (DLD).

DLD is a hidden, but very common condition affecting about 1 out of 15 children. DLD has been given different names in the past, which has sometimes made it confusing for professionals to talk about the condition and for children with DLD to get help.

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