Developmental Language Disorder by Shelley Parkin

‘Developmental Language Disorder’

The new name in Speech and Language Therapy.

Have you ever wondered why your child’s speech and language therapy diagnosis seemed to change depending on who was describing it? Perhaps even the same professional described to your child’s difficulties using several different labels, leaving you confused as to what to call it? Well, you’re not alone.

Historically, Speech and Language Therapists themselves were not always clear on terminology for language difficulties. There was not one clear set of guidelines to follow, and therapists often relied upon the received wisdom of their experienced colleagues, or the broad descriptions learned in our training.

Some clinical areas were more straightforward. Stammering, Autism, Cleft Palate, Dysphagia (swallowing difficulties), Hearing Impairment- amongst others. We all had a pretty clear idea how to define these. But there was no clear consensus about terminology for language difficulties- this required interpretation from the treating clinician, and therefore resulted in some variation within the profession. You may have heard any or all of these terms before: Language Delay, Language Disorder, Expressive Language Disorder, Receptive Language Disorder, Language Difficulties, Language Impairment, Specific Language Impairment (SLI).

It’s no wonder people were sometimes left feeling confused- is my child’s language delayed? (which implies they will catch up) Or is their language disordered? (meaning they may need support throughout their education). Language difficulties are incredibly varied, and no two children will have quite the same profile. This is likely to be a contributing factor in the variation of terminology we see in the profession.

Courtenay Frazier Norbury, Professor of Developmental Language and Communication Disorders at University College London, has stated that if a child still has language difficulties by the time they have settled into primary school, there’s a good chance they will continue to do so. Some children do indeed have delayed language development, and can catch up with the right support. But for many children, the gap can seem to widen, rather than narrow, as they get older. By the time children reach Year 2, the distinction between language delay and language disorder should become more apparent.

One of the key problems facing these children is a lack of identification of their difficulties and needs. In order to address this, a collection of some of the biggest names in Speech and Language Therapy research, and respected professionals from other disciplines, came together and worked on the ‘Catalise’ project, with the aim of reaching a consensus on both criteria and terminology.

The result was the agreement of the following terms: ‘Language Disorder’ will be the preferred term for those children whose language difficulties have a functional impact on everyday life and whose difficulties are likely to be ongoing. ‘Developmental Language Disorder’ is used when the language disorder is not associated with any other biomedical diagnosis, e.g. Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Global Developmental Delay, ADHD etc, and replaces the term ‘Specific Language Impairment’.

These changes will take time to take root, and we are likely to hear some of the alternative terminology popping up in the meantime. Many professionals are working hard to spread the word about Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), so that it receives the same recognition, level of research, and of course, funding, of some higher profile (although in some cases less prevalent) special education needs.

If you are unsure about your child’s speech and language therapy diagnosis, or would like to talk it through, we encourage you to contact your child’s speech and language therapist. For more information about children’s speech and language difficulties you can contact:

Shelley Parkin

Speech and Language Therapist