Key points

  • Developmental 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
  • There is a need to raise awareness for adults who are unaware that they have a developmental language disorder

What is developmental language disorder?

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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 sensorineural hearing loss.

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

Role of speech and language therapy for developmental language disorder

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.


Factsheets on developmental language disorder and factsheet on learning disabilities

RCSLT briefing paper on Language Disorder with a specific focus on Developmental Language Disorder

Key organisations

  • Afasic - organisation which seeks to raise awareness and to create better services and provision for children and young people with language disorder. It has specific divisions for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
  • NAPLIC – National Association of Professionals concerned with Language Impairment in Children (NAPLIC) is an association for all professionals concerned with children who have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). Its membership includes teachers, speech and language therapists, psychologists, staff across the children’s workforce and others who are involved professionally with children with speech, language and learning difficulties to Developmental Language Disorders (DLD) and related communication problems.
  • The Communication Trust - coalition of over 50 not-for-profit organisations that work together to support everyone who works with children and young people in England to support their speech, language and communication.
  • RADLD - a campaign created to raise awareness of developmental language disorder.