Developmental Language Disorder
In developmental language disorder (DLD), a child’s language development is delayed or progresses differently from other areas. The child may also have difficulties with coordination, attention or social skills, for example. DLD is one possible reason for language abilities not developing in the typical way for a child’s age group. About seven percent of children in Finland have DLD. It is more common in boys than girls.
In DLD, speech and language development is delayed or progresses differently from other areas. The child is slow to learn new words, starts talking late, or stops using words that were learned previously. In some cases, the child may hardly speak at all for years. Combining words into sentences is often delayed as well, and the child may be slow to grasp concepts and grammar. Unclear speech and resulting communication difficulties are also typical.
How to recognise DLD
DLD often becomes apparent in interactive situations. The child has considerable difficulty explaining things and is unable to construct a coherent narrative, whether words come out in a torrent or are few and far between. Social situations can be challenging if the child has trouble understanding and applying social rules or using language as a tool for interaction. The challenge is compounded by difficulty understanding speech.
Comprehension problems are very common in children with DLD. However, they may not be very noticeable in everyday life because of the many non-verbal cues a child learns to follow in familiar situations and environments. Sometimes comprehension problems do not become apparent until the child is expected to follow lengthy instructions as part of a group, for example, or to talk about complex subjects.
DLD may be associated with other difficulties such as motor incoordination, attention disorders, and problems with executive function or sensory regulation. Social skills may also be a concern.
Learning problems may persist into the teenage and adult years
The symptoms of DLD change with age. People with DLD often speak more clearly as they get older and use language more effectively in everyday situations. They may still have trouble understanding spoken or written sentences that are long, complex and abstract. Expressing their own thoughts, observations and knowledge in spoken or written form also continues to take effort.
DLD complicates family life
For children who have difficulty expressing themselves, making themselves understood and understanding others, many everyday situations can seem surprising, unpredictable or even frightening. Frustration and the need to communicate can lead to acting out in many ways. When children get frustrated because they cannot express themselves or make themselves understood, some withdraw and avoid situations that force them to rely on language.
DLD may be associated with other symptoms such as motor incoordination, attention disorders, and problems with executive function or sensory regulation. Social skills may also be a concern.
See our Communication Centre pages (in finnish) for more information about DLD, its effects on learning and everyday life, and resources for supporting children’s language development and activities (including information days for parents).
Rehabilitation can help with language disorders
Effective treatment of DLD depends on committed, engaged parents at home as well as supportive measures in place at preschools and schools. Child health clinics provide parental guidance for supporting language development. Rehabilitation follows a plan based on tests and recommendations, prepared jointly by various professionals.
Language disorders often have a genetic cause
The underlying mechanisms of DLD are not yet well understood, but usually there is a genetic cause. DLD cannot be caused by a child’s parents or immediate environment. However, the negative impacts of DLD may be intensified in an environment that does not support language learning and linguistic ability. On the other hand, such impacts may be substantially reduced by a positive environment in which language learning and ability are encouraged.
Language disorders in multilingual families
Speaking many languages does not cause DLD, but may magnify the negative impact of specific difficulties. The risk factors for problems with language development seem to be about the same for monolingual and bilingual children. Parents in today’s multilingual families are advised to speak to their children in their native language. This way, children hear correct language models and can distinguish between languages more easily.