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Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) | What Every Family Needs to Know

Developmental Language Disorder or DLD affects 2 children in every Australian classroom of 30 students. Imagine making a new friend, learning a new subject, or negotiating yourself out of a tough spot if your ability to use or understand language were a life-long challenge.

Families Magazine is very proud to support inclusivity and diversity in all that we do which is why we are shining a light on this hidden but common lifelong condition.

You may have noticed your child is struggling to communicate their thoughts or is getting frustrated trying to learn to read. These can be signs of DLD or just normal stages in a child’s development. The important thing is not to panic and to be informed about what the cause may be.

Remember, each child is different and you should always speak with a health professional regarding any matter causing you concern regarding your child’s health and development.

What is DLD?

You’ve probably heard about autism and dyslexia but what about DLD?

DLD causes difficulties with speaking and understanding for no known reason. There are serious and long-term impacts, as it puts children at greater risk of failing at school and struggling with mental health and future employment.  The biggest challenge is you can’t tell by looking at a person that they have DLD and therefore, they often get overlooked for support.

People with DLD can be as different as you and I. However, it is important to know that with the right supports, people with DLD can and do thrive!

Know the facts about DLD

  • DLD is a brain difference that makes talking and listening difficult. It is 50 times more prevalent than hearing impairment and five times more prevalent than autism. (McGregor, 2020)
  • The disability affects 7.5% of grade 1 children. Teachers, need to know about this hidden but common disability because, in a class of 30, two children will have DLD (Norbury et al., 2016)
  • People with DLD are six times more likely to have reading difficulties and four times more likely to struggle with math. (Young et al., 2002)
  • Developmental Language Disorder commonly co-occurs with other neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, Developmental Coordination Disorder, dyslexia, and dyscalculia. (Cleaton & Kirby, 2018)
  • The condition tends to run in families. Twin studies indicate a strong genetic influence on DLD, but this seems to reflect the combined impact of many genes, rather than a specific mutation (Bishop, 2006). The popular view the disability is caused by parents who don’t talk to their children has no evidence-based support.

What are the signs of DLD in a child?

People with DLD are as intelligent as their peers, but may experience difficulties with:

  • understanding instructions
  • answering questions
  • learning new words
  • putting words together to speak in sentences
  • reading
  • writing sentences
  • playing with others

A person with DLD may struggle to follow instructions (i.e. “Before you get your English book out, put your pencil case on the desk”) and use shorter and simpler sentences when speaking (i.e. “She kick ball” instead of “She kicked the ball”).  They may also present with other co-occurring difficulties such as dyslexia, ADHD, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and developmental coordination disorder/dyspraxia.

How does a diagnosis of a child with Developmental Language Disorder occur? Often the process begins when a caring adult shares concerns about a child’s ability to communicate or notices behaviors that could be signs of poor communication such as acting out or failing in the classroom.  A number of red flags in the child’s speech and language development can trigger these concerns. The next step is to seek an evaluation from a speech pathologist.

Parker’s journey to a DLD diagnosis

Parker #DLDSeeMe

16-year-old Parker lives in Brisbane, is an amazing photographer with nearly 4000 followers on his Instagram (@PHLPhotos) and he has Developmental Language Disorder.
Despite originally being diagnosed with dyslexia in Grade 3 Parker continued to have difficulties at school that were not totally explained by dyslexia which led to a diagnosis of DLD in early 2020.
“It’s not that you’re not listening or paying attention. DLD feels like everything is going over my head all the time. When I talk, it feels a bit like I’m about to stutter. Everything rushes to your mouth at once. I have to stop the sentence and restart or move onto something else.  My mates don’t really notice, but I do,” he shared.
Having a label has been life-changing for Parker. It explains why he finds it difficult to understand when a teacher gives him an instruction and why he finds it hard to concentrate with his mind often going blank. Parker wants people to know that having DLD doesn’t mean you are ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid’. Just like him, the 1 in 14 people with DLD are working incredibly hard to keep up with what’s going on around them.
“Knowing you have DLD means you don’t beat yourself up over it. People need to be patient and not get frustrated.”
Parker speaks adamantly about the importance of not being singled out. He doesn’t want to be treated differently.
“It’s ok to have DLD. You can’t get rid of it. We need more awareness of DLD. More people with DLD telling their story to let people know about it.”
Families Magazine would like to thank Parker for sharing his story with us.

Where can I go for support if I suspect my child has DLD?

Queensland is fortunate to have a network of supports for people with DLD at a level not always seen in other States and Territories of Australia. Here’s an overview of the peak bodies working in the DLD space locally and around the world.

Speech Pathology Australia

If you suspect your child may have DLD your first stop should be to see a speech pathologist. Speech Pathology Australia is the national peak body for the speech pathology profession in Australia. Speech pathologists are university trained allied health professionals with expertise in the assessment and treatment of communication difficulties.

Speech Pathology Australia produced the Communication Milestones Kit to provide information for parents and carers about the role of speech pathologists. The kit includes resources that outline the talking and understanding milestones for children aged 1-5 years..

Head to the Speech Pathology Australia website to search for a certified practising speech pathologist near you. Speech Pathologists can run a number of assessments to better understand your child’s individual needs.

The DLD Project

The DLD Project is an impact focused, innovative social enterprise founded to elevate awareness and understanding of DLD in Australia. Extensive and evolving research confirms what works best for people with DLD but unfortunately, these learnings and insights sit in the hands of a few. The DLD Project, addresses these roadblocks by providing an online platform that distributes evidence-based, DLD specific information, resources, and training for families, educators, and therapists. You can access The DLD Project website here.

Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder (RADLD)

RADLD is a global volunteer movement of health professionals, educators, and families working to raise awareness of the disability globally. On their website you will find resources that explain what DLD is, the impact it can have, how to get help, and how to raise awareness. Head to the RADLD website for more information.

DLD Awareness Day

Developmental Language Disorder Awareness Day, now in its sixth year, is celebrated annually around the world with more than 40 countries involved in 2021.

Friday 20th of October 2023 is DLD Awareness Day and this year the theme is DLD Around the World, highlighting that DLD affects people around the world regardless of age, gender, language spoken or ethnicity. People do not grow out of DLD but with individualised supports, that can include regular speech therapy and educational adjustments, they can thrive. It’s about growing with DLD.

What other conditions cause issues with communication?

There are so many different reasons why a child may be having difficulties with communication. It is important to see a paediatrician or speech pathologist as soon as possible to work through any concerns. Here are two other additional conditions which can contribute to communication challenges in children:

Speech Delay

Speech delay can come in various forms and degrees. When starting Prep, a significant speech delay impacts on children’s academic learning and in particular, their literacy skills. Learn more here.


We’ve all heard about Autism over recent years but how can you support a child with Autism to make friends. In this post, we explore practical ways to help children with Autism to build relationships. You may also like to check out our list of 10 indoor activities for kids on the Autism Spectrum.

Remember to celebrate your child’s individual abilities

Every child is different and has their own strengths and weaknesses. A child with a disability is just as capable of leading a full and rewarding life with the right supports in place.

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Natalie Turner

Natalie started her career in the media as a radio announcer for Triple M and B105 before crossing over to the not for profit space, including Cancer Council Queensland. She excels in marketing and communications roles and loves to find events and activities for our readers. As mum of two spirited young children, Nat's number one passion is enjoying new experiences with her family. This takes her out and about exploring and reporting back for Families Magazine readers. Natalie has a Bachelor of Communication from Griffith University as well as a Graduate Certificate in Business from University of Queensland.

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