Developmental Language Disorder

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD): what it is, why does it matter, and where can you learn more about it?

Some people have Language Disorders. This includes people with:

  • Language Disorders associated with known biomedical conditions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Cerebral Palsy, or Down Syndrome; and
  • Language Disorders with no other known biomedical condition.

A person with a Language Disorder that is not associated with a known biomedical condition (like ASD or Cerebral Palsy, etc.) has a Developmental Language Disorder, which we also call DLD

DLD is very common. DLD can have a life-long, negative effects on your relationships, mental health, and your participation and achievements at school, work, in the community, and in other places.

Speech-language pathologists are trained to spot and help people with DLD. We work with people with DLD, families, doctors, teachers, psychologists, employers and others to support people with DLD to stay healthy, to enjoy their lives, and to achieve their potential.

Language Disorders and DLD – more detail on what these terms mean

  • In general, people are born with an instinct to learn and to use language. Most children and adults learn to talk and to understand spoken language without much fuss. 
  • Some children and adults have significant difficulties talking or understanding language. This is called having a ‘Language Disorder‘.
  • Some people have Language Disorders that are caused by known biomedical conditions like:
    • brain injuries;
    • epilepsy;
    • genetic conditions (e.g. Down Syndrome);
    • Cerebral Palsy;
    • sensori-neural hearing loss;
    • ASD; and/or
    • intellectual disability.
  • If a person has clinically significant language difficulties and one or more of the biomedical conditions listed above, we say that they have a ‘Language Disorder associated with [the biomedical condition]’. For example, if someone with ASD has significant difficulties with language, they have a ‘Language Disorder associated with ASD’.
  • Many other people have Language Disorders with no known biomedical conditions. These people have ‘Developmental Language Disorders‘ or DLD.

DLD is very common

DLD affects:

  • about 7.5% of children: two children in every classroom; and
  • learning, friendships and other relationships, mental health, reading and writing, and work.

DLD is sometimes hard to spot, and is very serious.  

Red flags and known predictors of DLD

Some (but not all) people with DLD have one or more known predictors and red flags for DLD, such as a family history, or problems around the time of birth.

But these are just risk factors. Having one or more of these red flags does not mean that you have DLD. Some people with DLD do not have any red flags or predictors of DLD.

Many people with DLD also have other (non-language-based) disorders

Some people with DLD have additional neuro-developmental challenges or disorders. These include things like:

These people still have DLD. But treatment requires speech-language pathologists to work with the person, family, and other health and education professionals to support the person in a coordinated and evidence-based way.

Recommended resources and reading

Man wearing glasses and a suit, standing in front of a bay

Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.

Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language

Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.