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Is My Child’s DLD Linked to Another Disorder?

Sean Redmond, PhD, CCC-SLP

University of Utah

"Comorbidity" refers to the presence of two or more disorders in the same person. These disorders can occur individually or link together.  For example, a person who wears glasses and uses a hearing aid may have a visual impairment and hearing loss that are completely separate from each other.  Yet, another person who wears glasses and uses a hearing aid may have an underlying medical condition that affects both their vision and hearing. 

How do you know if your child's DLD is a condition by itself or is part of another disorder?

When we study large groups we can see the more common comorbidities. Developmental language disorder (DLD) can occur by itself. When it does this is called "specific language impairment" (SLI). SLI is the most common type of DLD.

DLD can also happen with other disorders. Studies of children with DLD suggest some disorders co-occur more often. These include emotional problems, ADHD, dyslexia, and autism. We are still learning why this happens. It might be that DLD makes it hard to express yourself and understand other people. If it is hard to communicate, this can lead to problems with friends, family, or teachers. This could lead to frustration and emotional problems. Genes might play a role. We know that DLD and autism happen in families at higher rates than expected.  It can also be hard to tell where one disorder ends and another begins. Some children with DLD have problems following directions because they don't understand the words and sentences adults are using. From the teacher's view, children with DLD look like they have ADHD. But that's because DLD can sometimes mimic ADHD. When the verbal challenges are lower these children can pay attention. It takes a team of specialists to figure out if a person has DLD by itself or has additional disorders. Comorbidity research helps us watch for areas where people with DLD might need extra help.

To gain a better understanding if you or your child may have a co-occurring condition, contact your primary care provider.

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