Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

A child with speech, language and communication needs:

  • Might have speech that is difficult to understand

  • They might struggle to say words or sentences

  • They may not understand words that are being used, or the instructions they hear

  • They may have difficulties knowing how to talk and listen to others in a conversation

Children may have just some or all of these difficulties; they are all very different.


Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is a term that is used to describe difficulties with learning and using language which will be long term, but that are not associated with other conditions, such as cerebral palsy, or autistic spectrum disorders.  In the past DLD was known as specific language impairment (SLI) but the name has changed so that it better reflects the types of difficulties children have, ICAN.

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is diagnosed when a child's language does not develop normally and the difficulties cannot be accounted for by generally slow development, physical abnormality of the speech apparatus, autism spectrum disorder, apraxia, acquired brain damage or hearing loss.

What causes developmental language disorder?

The cause of DLD is unknown, but recent discoveries suggest it has a strong genetic link. Children with DLD are more likely than those without DLD to have parents and siblings who also have had difficulties and delays in speaking. In fact, 50 to 70 percent of children with DLD have at least one other family member with the disorder.

What are the symptoms of Developmental Language Disorder?

Children with DLD are often late to talk and may not produce any words until they are 2 years old. At age 3, they may talk, but may not be understood. As they grow older, children with DLD will struggle to learn new words and make conversation. Having difficulty using verbs is a symbol of DLD. Typical errors that a 5-year-old child with DLD would make include dropping the “s” from the end of present-tense verbs, dropping past tense, and asking questions without the usual “be” or “do” verbs. For example, instead of saying “She rides the horse,” a child with DLD will say, “She ride the horse.” Instead of saying “He ate the cookie,” a child with DLD will say, “He eat the cookie.” Instead of saying “Why does he like me?”, a child with DLD will ask, “Why he like me?”

What is the difference between a "language delay" and a "language disorder?

It can often be confusing when hearing different terms used to describe speech, language and communication needs.

Some children struggle to understand and use language. The term “language delay” is used when a child’s speech & language development is following the usual pattern and sequence but is slower than other children that age. This means that their talking sounds like that of a younger child.

A “language disorder” or “disordered language” is used to describe language development which is not following the usual pattern or sequence. This means a child’s language may be developing in an unusual pattern or differently from other children. They will sound unusual and have real difficulty forming their words and sentences to talk to others (ICAN, helps children communicate)

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