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What is Developmental Language Disorder?


Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is diagnosed when a child has difficulty acquiring their own language for no obvious reason. Children with DLD may have difficulties understanding what people say to them, and struggle to articulate their ideas and feelings.

It is a hidden disability that affects literacy learning, friendships and emotional well-being.

Signs of DLD

A child with DLD may exhibit the following signs:

  • Generally quiet, doesn’t say very much; has difficulty expressing him/herself verbally
  • Style of speech seems immature or below the level of peers
  • Struggles to find the right words, and has limited vocabulary
  • Appears to not understand or remember what was said; has difficulty following spoken directions
  • Has difficulties knowing how to talk and listen to others in a conversation
  • Older children may have difficulties reading and using written language

DLD looks different in every child. The child’s specific difficulties can also change as they get older and need to develop more complex skills.

Details about DLD

About 1 in 15 children is affected by DLD. It is more common in boys than girls.

It is a long term impairment that persists into adulthood. Adults have DLD.

DLD can run in families, and as such, has a genetic component. DLD is NOT caused by parents who don’t talk to their children enough.

Speaking more than one language to a child does not cause or complicate DLD.

DLD is not caused by an injury to the brain. 

DLD at school

Children with DLD, because they may fail to comprehend instructions, may be seen as naughty or inattentive by teachers.

Children with DLD may have social difficulties. Being able to express oneself clearly and to quickly grasp what others are saying can have a big impact on social relationships. Studies show that over half of kids with DLD experience bullying.

DLD may co-occur with ADHD and dyslexia. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have difficulty learning language and using it appropriately, too.

For all these reasons, literacy and overall academic success can be affected by DLD, making identification and early intervention important.

Getting help for DLD

If you suspect your child has DLD, see a Speech-Language Therapist. They will be able to diagnose your child’s language difficulties and make recommendations for support at home and at school.

There are many evidence-based strategies and programs that are effective in improving the language skills of children with DLD. A qualified Speech-Language Therapist can help identify appropriate treatment options for individual children with DLD based on their specific needs.

Mental wellness and DLD

Children with mild DLD appear to have few mental health difficulties.

Children with persistent language disorder struggle more with mental wellness. Research shows that two thirds of such children exhibit some externalising behaviours (ex. behavioural problems, aggression ‘fights with others’) and/or internalising difficulties (ex. withdrawl, tends to play alone). Fortunately, many of these difficulties often resolve in adolescence.

Teens with DLD are more prone to mental health problems. They are more than twice as likely to report symptoms of depression than their peers.

Most therapies for children’s mental health problems are “talking therapies”, which may not be optimal for children with DLD. Consider play therapy, art therapy or other visual and practical methods to support children with DLD.

Do you suspect that your child may have Developmental Language Disorder? Contact the BFDC, we can help.


Adapted from