What's in a label? DLD implications for advocacy, research and clinical service.

McGregor, K. K., Goffman, L., Horne, A. O. V., Hogan, T. P., & Finestack, L. H. (2020). Developmental Language Disorder: Applications for Advocacy, Research, and Clinical Service. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 5(1), 38-46.


Aim of the paper:

The authors looked into the benefits of applying the term ‘developmental language disorder’ (DLD) in research and clinical practices compared to the term ‘specific language impairment’ (SLI). DLD refers to a language deficit affecting social and educational capabilities. The authors distinguished it from SLI, which refers to a language deficit with no co-occurring conditions. However, both terms recognise the persistence of the language deficit throughout childhood and further. The clinical implications of adopting DLD instead of SLI are discussed.


What was discussed:


  • The authors discussed how the use of SLI in research is restrictive. For example, children with low non-verbal IQ scores are not considered as having SLI as a low score is taken to mean that the language difficulties is caused by an intellectual disability instead of SLI.

  • Additionally, using SLI in research can be restrictive as an SLI diagnosis includes children with only a developmental language problem and no other problems co-occurring.

  • The authors argue that DLD includes children who have language problems and another condition occurring at the same time. This is beneficial as it can help in investigating links between the language problems and the co-occurring conditions, which can provide a better understanding of language deficits.

  • DLD diagnoses are also more flexible with IQ scores, because children can have average or high non-verbal IQ scores but still present language problems. DLD operates on a spectrum, making it more flexible than the criteria for an SLI diagnosis.

  • With SLI, researchers usually use low scores on standardised tests as indicators of SLI but what is considered a low score is inconsistent across research.

  • DLD identification requires both standardised tests and examining how the child’s social and academic capabilities are affected, which allows it to consider the diverse presentations of language deficits in children.

  • DLD also accounts for the changing symptoms and nature of language deficits across an individual’s life span.



What does this mean?


The term ‘DLD’ has been adopted in many English-speaking countries but has yet to be widely used the United States. Adopting the term into practice can encourage a common platform for education and advocacy across all English-speaking countries. The use of this term can also avoid the risk of downplaying displays of language deficits in children which may not be ‘traditional’ symptoms. The authors suggest that the use of ‘DLD’ can also help with clinical cases as there will be research matching and supporting them. These can guide treatment methods that focus on the functional and educational aspects of the child’s life, which are impacted by DLD.


Where can I read this paper?


This paper is open access, which means everyone can read it.

Please click here to find the full paper.