Developmental Language Disorder

Developmental Language Disorder

  • Developmental Language Disorder or DLD is a difficulty understanding and/or using language, when there is no other underlying cause such as hearing loss, autism or learning disability.

    There is no known cause of DLD – it is a Neurodisability, relating to the way brains are wired.

    DLD is often called a ‘hidden disorder’ as children may not stand out as being any different to their peers. They may be able to chat in social situations but struggle with more technical language in the classroom or when they need to explain something. Some children have difficulties with understanding language – this can often be quite hard to spot as they may use lots of other strategies to compensate, which masks their struggles.

    DLD often impacts on other aspects of life, and these difficulties can be more noticeable. When we struggle with language, lots of other things can be tricky – such as reading and writing, understanding and learning in the classroom, concentrating and listening to lots of talking, making friends, coping in new or busy social situations like birthday parties, or managing emotions. Consequently, children may struggle with self-esteem, confidence or behaviour.

    It is these aspects that often get noticed before the language difficulties – and then children may be thought to have behaviour difficulties, learning difficulties, ADHD or autism, which is not necessarily the case.

    Whenever we are concerned about children’s behaviour or learning, we need to consider language difficulties.

    Sometimes children who have DLD also have a speech difficulty – this means that when they say a word or sentence, they are difficult to understand because they miss sounds out or use the wrong sounds. This can add to their frustrations and is another barrier to being able to communicate effectively with other people.

    DLD is a life-long condition which means that language will always be more tricky than other aspects of life and learning. However, children will make progress and often have strengths in other areas. We need to encourage, praise and build on the strengths of these children in order to increase their resilience and self-esteem.

    DLD is very common; research has shown that it affects at least two children in every classroom, but most of these children have not yet been identified.

    Unfortunately, awareness of DLD is low, even among professionals. This may be because the condition was previously referred to by a different name (SLI or Specific Language Impairment), and also because affected children were often described in more general terms as having ‘a few difficulties with language’ or ‘Speech Language and Communication Needs (SLCN)’. However, speech and language therapists are now working hard to identify and correctly diagnose children with DLD.

    Identifying DLD as early as possible is important as it enables children and families to access the right strategies, therapy and support. School staff and other professionals also need to know about a child’s diagnosis in order to learn the best ways to teach and support them academically, socially and emotionally.

    If you are concerned that your child may have DLD, you and/or your school can refer your child to the Speech and Language Therapy Department, Flockton House, Union Road, Sheffield S11 9EF / Tel 0114 2262333. Please be aware that waiting lists for assessments across the Speech and Language Therapy Service are very long.

    For more information about DLD in Sheffield, please contact Rebecca Bergmann, Clinical Lead Speech and Language Therapist for DLD, by emailing

    More information

    Groups and courses

    Parents of children with a diagnosis of DLD can take part in a parent programme called ‘DLD Together’ to help them learn more about the diagnosis, meet other families and connect with the national organisation Afasic for further support. Please contact the Sheffield Speech and Language Therapy Service on 0114 2262333 to find out more.

    At the Sheffield Parent Carer Forum, we run a termly Speech and Language Therapy subgroup, which is also for parents of children with DLD. It feeds into an ongoing review of speech and language support for children and young people in Sheffield. For meeting dates, please see the Events section of this website.

    Awareness-raising videos

    DLD 1-2-3:

    Darcie’s story:

    Lily Farringtons amazing DLD animation:

    Information and resources

    The Sheffield Children’s Hospital website has a resource library, which includes articles and videos explaining language strategies that you can use with your child. Go to and use the filters at the top of the page to look for resources on listening and attention, language strategies and more.

    National charities RADLD, Speech and Language UK and NAPLIC all have lots of useful information and resources for parents and teachers.

    Teachers can also access training and resources via the Learn Sheffield Website – look out for the section on Developmental Language Disorder.

Page last updated: 7th April 2023