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  • Genna Nichol

Developmental Language Disorder

A developmental language disorder (DLD) is described as difficulty learning, understanding, and using language. All children develop at different rates, but some children struggle with language development more than others, even though they show typical progress in other areas. In fact, research by Courtenay Norbury and others show approximately every two out of 30 students will experience language disorders severe enough to hinder academic progress. Since language skills are critical for daily communication, children with DLD can quickly fall behind at school when they are unable to use language effectively to understand, communicate and demonstrate their learning.

What are the signs of a possible DLD?

One of the reasons DLD is often overlooked or misdiagnosed, is that it does not present the same way in every child. Some signs are also typical of other learning disabilities so the underlying language disorder may easily be overlooked. An assessment by a speech-language pathologist is required for a diagnosis, but the following is a list of common behaviours displayed by children with DLD:

  • They may have difficulties following directions, perform poorly on tests, not engage in class discussions or with peers, and may seem to not be paying attention.

  • They may not talk as much as other children and use words and sentences that are too simple for their age. They may struggle to find the right words, not participate in regular conversation and be oblivious to social cues.

  • They may have difficulties with words that have multiple meanings, metaphors, and figurative language. Categorizing sounds is often challenging as well as remembering and repeating sound or word sequences.

  • They may not understand or remember instructions or complex sentences and have difficulty retelling stories in a concise, logical manner.

How can teachers support children with DLD?

Learners struggling with language skills need additional help to be successful at school. Early intervention is ideal in grades where language skills such as reading, writing and comprehension are still explicitly taught. Otherwise, students risk falling behind as more complex subjects are introduced before they acquire the necessary language skills needed to succeed at these subjects. Fortunately, there is strong evidence that professional help can help children maximize their communication and learning potential. Teachers are uniquely positioned to recognize signs of DLD and connect students and their families with the services and resources they need to be successful.


The following is a list of resources, including tips to help teachers better support students with DLD:


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