What is Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)?

What is Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)?

Developmental language disorder (DLD) is a type of speech, language and communication need (SLCN) where children have difficulties understanding and/or using spoken language.

In the past DLD was known as specific language impairment (SLI); however the name was recently changed in order to better reflect the type of difficulties children with this condition have.

‘Developmental Language Disorder’ is now the agreed term for when the child/ young person’s language disorder is not associated with a known condition such as autism spectrum disorder, brain injury, genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome and sensorineural hearing loss.

A child can be diagnosed with DLD if their language difficulties:

  • Are likely to persist into adulthood
  • Have a significant impact on their progress at school, or on everyday life
  • Are unlikely to catch up without ongoing specialist support

What do we know about DLD?

  • For a diagnosis of DLD a child must have language difficulties that persist into school age and beyond
  • Studies have shown that in 5 year olds, DLD affects about two children in every classroom (about 7.6%)
  • DLD is more common in boys than in girls
  • DLD looks different in all children
  • DLD is associated with poor prognosis and increases the risk of a range of negative impacts on education, employment, and social and emotional problems
  • The features of DLD will vary with age but children will almost always have difficulty understanding spoken language

What kind of difficulties would a child with DLD have?

  • They may struggle to remember or retrieve/find the words they want to use
  • They may struggle to structure their sentences and to sequence a story in the correct order; this can make it difficult to understand what they are saying
  • They may find it difficult to understand questions asked and instructions given
  • They may struggle to use grammatical constructs (e.g. verb tenses, conjunctions, pronouns) correctly
Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

How can Speech and Language Therapy help a child/ young person with DLD?

Speech and language therapy can help children and young people with DLD to develop their language abilities to their maximum potential. Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) will teach strategies to the child/ young person and those around them in order to reduce the impact of their communication difficulties and support them to access education and social activities.

Despite their difficulties with language, children/ young people with DLD can achieve well at school, both academically and socially, if the right support is provided.

What to expect from Speech and Language Therapy?
  • Comprehensive Assessment – Identifying your child’s strengths and areas of difficulty
  • Diagnosis
  • Identification of the parent and child/ young person’s personal goals
  • Development and delivery of strategies and evidenced-based therapy programmes to support the child/young person to communicate effectively with others
  • Training for school to support the child/ young person to access the educational and social curriculum
  • Supporting parents with what to expect following their child’s DLD diagnosis
  • Monitoring the child/ young person’s progress and adapting therapy as appropriate
  • Supporting the child/ young person at transition points e.g. from home to nursery, from primary school to secondary school

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

If you have concerns about your child’s understanding and/or use of language check out our language development norm sheets to see how your child is progressing.

Please contact a Speech and Language therapist if you continue to have concerns about your child’s language development.



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