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How Speech Pathology helps children with Developmental Language Disorder

How Speech Pathology Helps Children With Developmental Language Disorder

What is Developmental Language Disorder?

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is a common yet often misunderstood condition affecting language development in children. DLD has an estimated prevalence of 8% among primary school-aged children.2 Understanding Developmental Language Disorder is crucial for parents, educators, and healthcare professionals. This article aims to shed light on DLD, its symptoms, diagnosis, and effective treatment options to provide better support for children with DLD. Developmental Language Disorder refers to a range of language difficulties that are diagnosed in preschool and early school years and persist into adolescence and adulthood. 1 Unlike a language delay, which happens during the first years of language learning and may resolve by age five, Developmental Language Disorder persists beyond this age and requires specific intervention. Children with Developmental Language Disorder may struggle with understanding language (receptive language), forming sentences, and using grammar correctly (expressive language). DLD is able to be diagnosed when these language difficulties are not associated with a known condition (e.g. autism, brain injury, hearing loss or other genetic conditions).

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Children with Developmental Language Disorder often appear less responsive to spoken comments and instructions and are slower in learning and using words compared to their peers. DLD has a significant impact on friendships, conversations, classroom learning, and school readiness.3 Studies highlight that children with Developmental Language Disorder are at an increased risk of academic, social, and emotional development problems.4, 2

Diagnosing DLD typically involves a comprehensive assessment by a speech pathologist. This includes observing the child’s communication skills, reviewing their developmental history, and using standardised language tests. Tools such as the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF) and the Preschool Language Scale (PLS) are often used.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of Developmental Language Disorder is unknown, but genetic predisposition and environmental factors play significant roles. Research indicates that children with a family history of language disorders are more likely to develop DLD. Environmental factors, such as limited language exposure and lack of stimulation, can also contribute to the development of DLD. Related conditions such as ADHD or dyslexia can complicate diagnosis and treatment. Developmental Language Disorder ranges in severity from mild to severe, and if left untreated, it can lead to social, academic, and emotional development disadvantages.

Impact on Daily Life

Social and Behavioural Outcomes

Children with Developmental Language Disorder often present with social and behavioural difficulties due to frustration in communication, social rejection by peers, and reduced confidence in communicating with others. They may withdraw from social interactions, prefer to play alone, and be less likely to initiate conversations or engage in class. This can lead to aggressive behaviour and social problems, making appropriate social interactions with peers challenging.

Emotional Development

Frustration resulting from communication difficulties can lead to withdrawal behaviours and poor self-esteem. Studies have found that children with Developmental Language Disorder are at higher risk of anxiety disorders and social phobia as they age into adolescence.1 Emotional well-being can be significantly impacted, leading to increased rates of depression and other mental health issues.

Academic and Learning Outcomes

Developmental Language Disorder impacts both expressive and receptive language skills, putting children at greater risk of not understanding or keeping up with their peers in school. Early language disorders are associated with academic difficulties that persist into adulthood, leading to reading difficulties and falling behind in learning. Challenges in subjects like reading, writing, and mathematics are common, and these difficulties can compound over time, affecting overall academic performance.

Treatment and Therapy - Developmental Language Disorder

Treatment and Therapy

Speech therapy is the cornerstone of DLD treatment, and early intervention is critical for mitigating the impact on language development. Here is a more detailed look at how speech therapy supports individuals with Developmental Language Disorder:

Social and Behavioural Outcomes

  • Language Modelling: Therapists use language modelling to demonstrate correct language use. They provide examples of proper sentence structures, grammar, and vocabulary during interactions with the child.
  • Interactive Storytelling: Interactive storytelling involves helping children understand and create stories. These exercises develop a child’s ability to organise their thoughts and express them coherently. 
  • Explicit instruction: This technique is used to teach children the correct grammar and sentence structures needed to express themselves clearly. Children learn the theory behind features of language to support their correct use of language.
  • Play-Based Therapy: Using play as a medium, therapists engage children in activities that naturally promote language use. This approach makes therapy enjoyable and effective, especially for younger children.

Structured Activities and Exercises

  • Repetition and Practice: Regular practice of language skills is essential. Therapists design activities that require children to repeat and practise new words, sentences, and grammatical structures in their sessions and at home.
  • Visual Aids and Gestures: Incorporating visual aids and gestures helps children understand and remember language concepts better. Picture cards, flashcards, and hand gestures can be effective tools.
  • Technology-Assisted Learning: Speech therapists may use specialised software and apps designed for language development. These tools provide interactive and engaging ways for children to practise language skills.

Involvement of Parents and Caregivers

Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in reinforcing the skills learned during therapy. Speech therapists often provide training and resources to parents so they can support their child’s language development at home. Activities might include:

  • Reading Together: Daily reading sessions with the child can significantly enhance vocabulary and comprehension.
  • Language-Rich Environment: Encouraging conversations and providing a language-rich environment at home stimulates language use.
  • Consistent Practice: Parents are encouraged to incorporate language exercises into daily routines, making practice consistent and natural.

Customised Therapy Plans

Every child with Developmental Language Disorder has unique needs, and therapy plans are tailored to address these individual requirements. Customised plans may include:

  • Goal Setting: Setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for language development.
  • Regular Assessment: Ongoing assessment to monitor progress and adjust therapy strategies as needed.
  • Multidisciplinary Approach: Collaborating with other professionals, such as educators and psychologists, to provide comprehensive support.

Long-Term Support

Developmental Language Disorder is a lifelong condition, and continuous support may be necessary. Speech therapists provide strategies to help individuals with DLD cope with language challenges throughout their lives. This might include:

  • Transition Support: Assisting with transitions, such as moving from primary school to secondary school, where language demands increase.
  • Vocational Training: Providing language support tailored to vocational needs, ensuring individuals can meet the communication demands of their chosen careers.

Getting Help

Developmental Language Disorder is a lifelong condition that requires early identification and consistent support. By understanding and addressing the challenges associated with DLD, we can help affected individuals achieve their full potential. If your child has difficulty understanding spoken language or appears to be behind their peers in using words to express themselves we offer a free service to discuss your concerns with a speech pathologist. Book an initial consultation with a Talkshop speech pathologist below to see if your child needs a formal assessment. 

Undertaking these steps will help you get the most from the consultation.

  • Write down any questions you have for the speech pathologist before meeting.
  • Talk to your child’s educators to get a fuller picture of their communication and social skills in different settings.
  • Take your child to an audiologist for a hearing test to determine if hearing difficulties are impacting language development.

Reference List:

  1. Johnson, C. J., Beitchman, J. H., & Brownlie, E. B. (2010). Twenty-year follow-up of children with and without speech-language impairments: Family, educational, occupational, and quality of life outcomes. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 19(1), 51–65.
  2. Eadie, P., Conway, L., Hallenstein, B., Mensah, F., McKean, C. and Reilly, S. (2018), Quality of life in children with developmental language disorder. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 53: 799-810. https://doi.org/10.1111/1460-6984.12385
  3. Bishop, D.V.M., Snowling, M.J., Thompson, P.A., Greenhalgh, T., & The CATALISE Consortium. (2016). CATALISE: A multinational and multidisciplinary Delphi consensus study. Identifying language impairments in children. PLoS ONE, 11, e0158753.
  4. Bretherton, L., Prior, M., Bavin, E., Cini, E., Eadie, P. and Reilly, S. (2013). Developing relationships between language and behaviour in preschool children from the Early Language in Victoria Study: implications for intervention. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 19, 7-27.