top of page
  • Writer's pictureM. Kovack

Uncovering the Research: The Science of Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

Updated: Feb 6

TWO students in every classroom have DLD (7% of people have DLD), and it is a specific challenge with understanding and using spoken language (think of the child, for instance, that struggles to follow directions, instructions, comprehend text, or speak/write in sentences that flow naturally or make sense). It often goes hand in hand with Dyslexia in that they are both heritable neurodevelopmental disorders that range from mild to severe, begin at birth, and are something you do not simply "grow out of".

To learn more about the overlap and connection between DLD and dyslexia, read Maggie Snowling's article - it's terrific.

Years ago, when parenting my son, I struggled to communicate with him, and him with me. He only said a handful of words by the age of 3 ("art" was his favourite, and of course, he is an artist today), and he just didn't seem to take in what I was saying. He LOVED reading, art, and pretending, and as he was my first born, I really didn't understand that his verbal skills were way behind typical development. Finally a friend looked at me, slapped me on the arm, and said, "he should be talking by now - you need to call a speech language pathologist". This was back in the early 90s, and so I called, took a course, and VOILA! There were SO MANY STRATEGIES that worked so well! He was talking in no time (incidentally, this is what I now teach to preservice teachers and ECEs at college).

Unfortunately, just because his speaking skills improved, there was still a long way to go. His problems with understanding and using language became apparent to me when I visited his kindergarten classroom. I looked at the teacher and said, "is he always like this?" (not following along with what others were talking about, not understanding the rules of conversation, happy, but missing a lot of information that the teacher or his peers were saying). And again, in grade one, when I volunteered in his class, his teacher made it clear (unfortunately, very loudly and with frustration in front of the whole class) that "he is the only one who didn't do it!?!" (insert heartbreak emoji here).

Finally, in grade two, he was diagnosed with a "Specific Language Impairment", however it was only a 1.5 page report, and it didn't really explain what that was, nor what to do about it other than the classic, 'sit next to the teacher', 'repeat instructions', 'use an agenda', etc. There was no mention of dyslexia, nor his challenges with reading and writing, but this is where his challenges were most obvious, so this is where he received the most support. He ended up with (thankfully) very dedicated and helpful teachers all the rest of the way through his elementary school years, BUT THERE WAS NO INFORMATION ABOUT, NOR FOCUS ON HIS LANGUAGE SKILLS. And this was a big problem, not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well.

Not too long ago, I learned that DLD is the new term that encompasses all of the other terms that have been used to describe problems with understanding and using language (think of the top half of Scarborough's Reading Rope). What most people do not realize, is that DLD creates LIFELONG problems with:

  • understanding what peers are saying, so playing together becomes frustrating and extremely challenging

  • processing what teachers are saying, so following directions and instructions becomes humiliating and exhausting

  • processing what the author is saying in stories, so answering comprehension questions becomes confusing and stifling

  • organizing and expressing thoughts and words in sentences (syntax) orally, so fully expressing their intelligent ideas with language (either orally, or in print) becomes impossible (hence a better chance of expressing themselves through their bodies (physical mastery) or materials (art). (Note to Self: I wonder if this the whole point? That we have artists and athletes and architects among us that for millennia have been perfectly able to express themselves in ways other than with "words", however in the past century, this has left them at a significant disadvantage?)

In any case, I am SO GRATEFUL and THANKFUL that the DLD bus has left the station. I am REALLY looking forward to the International Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) research conference in September. There are 2 ways to attend:

1) For $60, you can have access to all of the presentations until October 2022

2) For $90, you can have access to all of the presentations until September 2023

I hope that this is a RAGING success. Because there is nothing more enraging than a mother's inability to help her child.

Here is a podcast I was featured on with Anna Geiger (aka The Measured Mom) in which we speak about the complexity of oral language and DLD:


ACAMH (Association for Child and Mental Health) (2022). Dyslexia and developmental language disorder: same or different? [website article by professor Maggie Snowling President of St. John’s College at the University of Oxford]. Retrieved from

194 views0 comments


bottom of page