Language skills are the foundation for reading, writing, and learning. Improving a child or young person’s receptive and expressive language skills will benefit all areas of the curriculum and life in general.
Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is common – it affects approximately 7.6% of all children in primary school (Norbury et al, 2016). This equates to roughly two children in every average class of 30 in the UK – but it can easily be mistaken for other things and might not be recognised as a language problem.
A classroom which supports communication will benefit all children and young people. But it is especially important for those with DLD.
What is DLD?
Developmental Language Disorder is a diagnosis given to children and young people who have language difficulties that:
In the past, DLD was known as specific language impairment (SLI), but the name has changed to more accurately reflect the types of difficulties experienced.
Children and young people with DLD have problems understanding and/or using spoken language. And because language underlies so much of what we do, this may impact on many other areas as well, including literacy, learning, processing and memory, emotional wellbeing, social interaction, behaviour and forming friendships.
Difficulties may include:
Attention and listening:
-Presenting as looking ‘blank’, not listening or not paying attention due to their difficulties processing and understanding language.
-Difficulty following instructions.
-Incorrect or off-topic responses to questions.
-Difficulty listening to, remembering and understanding explanations.
-Reduced ability to learn and understand vocabulary, including academic vocabulary.
-Problems with understanding may be less obvious in some children and young people but more apparent in their behaviour, as they develop strategies to cover up the problems they have in understanding.
-Immature or less sophisticated vocabulary and grammar.
-Non-specific words (such as stuff, thingy).
-Jumbled up word order.
-Trouble telling a story or recounting an incident.
-Shorter and more immature sentences to express meanings than their peers. For example, when typical children can say That boy cuts shapes out of paper with sharp scissors, the child with DLD
might say 'Him doing cuts' to express the same idea.
Forming friendships and interacting with peers:
Even though they may be socially motivated, these children and young people may struggle to keep up in interactions with peers due to their language difficulties.
Literacy skills, reading comprehension and written expression:
All these skills depend on having a solid foundation of spoken language skills to build upon.
As all teaching and learning in education takes place through language.
What causes DLD?
Like other developmental conditions, such as dyslexia and autism, DLD is caused by a complex interaction between genetic and environmental risk factors. The profile of risk factors will vary between individuals. These risk factors appear to have subtle impacts on the way the brain learns language. As a result, we know that DLD runs in families – it is more common for a child or young person to have DLD when there is a family history of speech and language difficulties.
We also know that DLD is not caused by:
• Another medical condition or diagnosis, though many childhood conditions (such as autism or Down’s syndrome) are also characterised by difficulties with language.
• Poor parenting.
• Emotional difficulties (although it is common for children and young people with DLD to experience challenges relating to their social and emotional wellbeing).
How is DLD diagnosed?
At OCEPS, we monitor children's progress and attainment closely. Where teachers feel that there may be a language barrier present that needs support in addition to the communication-friendly environment already provided, parents will be informed. The class teacher will then seek support from the SENCO who will provide advice and resources. If following additional support and/or intervention, concerns remain, then a referral to our specialist Speech & Language Therapist will take place (with parental consent.) The therapist will liaise with staff, carry out assessments and decide if they meet the criteria. If so, a diagnosis of DLD will be given.
Following this, targeted intervention will take place and be reviewed as part of the graduated approach. Once targets have been met, either new targets will be set, dependent upon the needs of the child, or classroom support and adaptations will be amended.