Overview of language disorder

There has been ongoing debate about the most appropriate terminology to use for children that have difficulties with expressive and/or receptive language skills that impact on everyday life, for example difficulties producing or understanding complex sentences, or learning new words. Until recently the terms ‘Specific Language Impairment’, ‘language disorder’ and ‘developmental language impairment’ were used.

In 2016 an international group of 57 experts (the CATALISE panel) reached consensus on the criteria used for children’s language difficulties (Bishop et al 2016b)

The panel agreed on the term ‘Language Disorder’ to refer to children with language difficulties that create obstacles to communication or learning in everyday life and is associated with poor prognosis.Developmental Language Disorder was the agreed term for when the language disorder is not associated with a known condition such as autism spectrum disorder, brain injury, genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome and sensori-neural hearing loss.

On these RCSLT web pages, the term ‘specific language impairment’ will be used when referring to articles and resource that use this term.

RCSLT resources relating to the changes to diagnostic criteria and terminology.

Key points:

  • Language disorder is a type of speech, language and communication need (SLCN) that affects that way that children understand and express language.
  • Difficulties with communication are a predominant feature in reducing access to education, employment and social integration.
  • Speech and language therapy aims to:
                • develop the language abilities of the child to their maximum potential
                • to teach strategies to the child and those around the child to reduce the impact of their difficulties.

View language disorder sections:

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Cross-reference with other topic areas:

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