Developmental language disorder​ overview​

Developmental language disorder​ overview​

Key points

  • Developmental language disorder (DLD) is a type of speech, language and communication need (SLCN) that affects the way that children understand and use language
  • DLD increases the risk of a range of negative impacts on education, employment, and social and emotional problems, but appropriate support can make a difference
  • DLD affects 7.58% of children
  • Speech and language therapists (SLTs) teach strategies to children with DLD and those around them, which aim to reduce the impact of their difficulties and develop their language abilities to their maximum potential

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What is developmental 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 sensorineural hearing loss.

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

How can speech and language therapy help with DLD?

Speech and language therapy can help people with DLD to develop their language abilities to their maximum potential. SLTs will teach strategies to the child and those around them to reduce the impact of their communication difficulties and support them to access education and social activities.

Input by an SLT may include:

  • Identifying, assessing and diagnosing the communication difficulties.
  • Developing and delivering strategies and programmes of therapy to support a child with DLD.
  • Supporting schools to integrate strategies into the classroom in order to maximise children’s language learning and use.
  • Helping others eg teachers and parents in their use of communication techniques and communication friendly classrooms.
  • Raising awareness, educating and training professionals in identifying and working with children with DLD.
  • Supporting parents with what to expect following their child’s DLD diagnosis.

What to expect from speech and language therapy


An SLT will carry out comprehensive assessments in order to identify language development and areas of difficulty for the individual. They will assess how this impacts on:

  • Communication
  • Educational outcomes
  • Social participation
  • Wellbeing

Ongoing therapy

Once a child has received a DLD diagnosis, the SLT will work with the child and parents/carers to identify the child’s communication and personal goals. They will then develop some strategies and programmes of therapy to support the child to achieve their goals if appropriate.

An SLT may regularly monitor the progress of the child and if necessary they will make changes to the management of therapy. They will support the child in each stage in development and particularly at transition points eg from home to nursery, from primary school to secondary school and from secondary school to further education.

As DLD is a lifelong condition, people may access speech and language therapy services at different times during their life if appropriate.



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.

Speech and Language UK– is a charity whose mission is that no child should be left out or left behind because of a difficulty speaking or understanding. Their vision is a world where all children have the communication skills they need to fulfil their potential.

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).

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.

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