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Shining a Light on Developmental Language Disorder


Smiling girl in classroom

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

​Developmental language disorder (DLD) is a highly prevalent neurodevelopmental condition that limits a person's ability to learn and use language. Despite the importance of spoken language for success in school, social settings, career and quality of life, there remains major obstacles in securing the quality and quantity of care needed to help children with DLD to reach their full potential.  

Considering its prevalence and impact, DLD is greatly under researched relative to other neurodevelopmental disorders, a situation that has not improved over the past decade. The number of children with DLD who receive clinical services also falls far short of prevalence estimates. In a recent article, Karla McGregor, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Childhood Deafness, Language and Learning at Boys Town Hospital, explores reasons for the relative neglect of DLD in research and clinical realms [1]. She maintains that increasing public awareness of DLD is a key step forward. 

DLD Awareness is an Ongoing Problem 

Despite being recognized and studied by speech-language experts for many years, Dr. McGregor points out that DLD remains an “unknown disorder". A lot of the confusion arises because of the large mix of terms used for DLD. If your child has been described as having a language delay, specific language impairment, expressive-receptive language disorder, speech-language impairment, or language learning disability they may have DLD. Organizations like Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder (RADLD) are working to implement more uniform terminology and a greater understanding of the settings and reasons why one might encounter one term or another. 

Another problem with awareness, as Dr McGregor describes it, is that DLD is “a hidden disorder". Children with DLD often don't stand out as different. They “can carry on a basic conversation, follow a simple command, and answer a routine question [1]." Many children who are identified with DLD are diagnosed because they have a co-occurring condition such as a speech impairment, or a behavioral concern that is more noticeable than immature language patterns to adults. However, the consequences for academic success with DLD are often greater than those of co-occurring conditions. 

Improving DLD Care for Future Generations 

Progress will almost certainly accelerate if we can help parents and educators understand the critical importance of spoken language development to academic and social success and to alert them to potential signs of DLD. Speech-language researchers and clinicians must ensure that evidence-based information is accessible to educators, families and policy makers. is a website founded by a nation-wide panel of experts to help. provides brief, readable summaries of evidence on a range of topics related to DLD such as Causes of DLDGender Differences in Language Development, the Difference between DLD and Autism, and Test Score Interpretation. Since 2017, has organized DLD Awareness Day, including events and multi-media campaigns designed to improve awareness. 

This year's DLD Awareness Day is Friday, October 16, 2020. Keep an eye out for news, information and events on twitter and Facebook by following the hashtags #DLDseeMe and #DLDandMe. 


  1. McGregor, K. A. (2020) How We Fail Children with Developmental Language Disorder. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch. 5; 1–12. doi: 10.1044/2020_LSHSS-20-00003. 

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