‘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.