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Myths About Developmental Language Disorders (DLD)

Sean Redmond, PhD CCC-SLP
Andrea C. Ash, PhD
University of Utah

What are the Social Impacts of Developmental Language Disorders?

We often meet our social goals just by talking. It is pretty amazing. We socialize verbally all the time without giving it too much thought. Talking is how we start and keep friendships, resolve differences, and get the things we want.

For children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), however, weak language skills can make it difficult to accomplish these things. It can be hard for children with DLD to find the right words or to create the sentences they need quickly. Because of this, children with DLD can become discouraged. They might stop trying. Instead, it can be easier for children with DLD to rely on their parents or other adults. For example, a preschooler may ask a teacher to get a desired toy from a peer rather than ask for it themselves.

The frustration of not being able to achieve social goals can lead to tantrums or physical aggression in some children. These strategies might work in the short term but over time they turn into big problems. Children who use them too much can develop a reputation for being "challenging." More importantly, children with DLD lose the chance to practice their language and social skills. Meanwhile, other children are quickly growing in these areas. One of the most important jobs facing families, teachers and speech-language pathologists is to stay alert to the impact DLD might have on children's social skills.  

What Social Skills are Impacted?

"Social skills" is used to mean many different things. Even so, four key areas are often discussed. DLD could negatively impact all four areas. These areas are:

  • Friendship
  • Self-management
  • Assertion
  • Cooperation

We know that as early as preschool, children want friends with good language skills and avoid children who have problems communicating. Good social skills include learning other people's names. If learning words is hard for you, it might be hard to learn names when making new friends. It is more friendly to invite someone to play when you use their name rather than saying "hey you." People with good social skills can also talk easily about their ideas. However, if you need extra time to come up with sentences during an argument, there is a good chance you'll lose that argument. Weak vocabulary and grammar skills are probably part of the reason children with DLD are at increased risk for being teased and bullied.

Social skills improve with therapy focusing on improving children's grammar and vocabulary in real conversations. Social scripts may also help children with DLD navigate situations where they are uncertain how to behave. It is tempting to think that these treatments alone can fix the social problems of children with DLD. However, these approaches are incomplete. Social skills are a two-way street. Larger improvements in social skills happen when treatment also includes changing the behaviors and attitudes of others. Helping other people understand the challenges of communicating with DLD may be an important piece of the social skills puzzle.

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