Are You Talking About Who I’m Talking About?

by Susan McMackin – Speech and Language Therapist

This year International Developmental Language Disorder Day falls on 19th October 2018. Raising awareness is all about making sure the topic is always in circulation and ensuring that people are also also aware of what that topic is. Susan McMackin, one of our Speech and Language Therapists has joined the discussion with this post.


‘Specific Language Impaired’, ‘Language Learning Disabled’, ‘Language Disordered’, ‘Communication Impaired’ … and Children with ‘Speech Language and Communication Needs’ (SLCN) are only some of the terms used by professionals across disciplines (i.e. Psychology, Education, Allied Health like Speech Language Therapy, Paediatric Medicine, and Psychiatry) to refer to a cohort of children presenting with the same profile of impairment.  

The confusion about both the criteria and terminology for these children has affected access to services and hindered research in the field. At the heart of the debate lies a lack of agreement about whether environmental factors like low levels of parental education or poverty, etc. or biomedical conditions such as hearing loss, autism spectrum disorder, brain injury or general learning difficulties amongst others are included or excluded from the classification. But thanks to the multidisciplinary panel CATALISE we’ve got there …  finally a consensus has been reached!!  

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) refers to children with language difficulties which create obstacles to learning and communicating in everyday life and are unlikely to ‘catch up’ spontaneously AND where the condition is NOT associated with other biomedical conditions.  

Let’s look more closely at this group. DLD diagnosis includes:  

  1. Low to Average IQ: Traditionally normal range non-verbal IQ has been part of the criteria for diagnosis for this group, but as it is not supported by research evidence this is no longer the case.  
  2. Neurodevelopmental Disorders: presenting language difficulties related to attention, behaviour, motor skills, literacy, speech, executive function or adaptive behaviour can still be classified as DLD.  
  3. Environmental Risk Factors: presenting language difficulties associated with poverty, family history, low level parental education, neglect/abuse, problems before/at birth can still be classified as DLD 

The term 'Language Disorder Associated with' is used where a child has language problems associated with a biomedical conditions (as above) the term used is Encompassing both the Language Disorder and Developmental Language Disorder is the broad term Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) which refers to all children with speech, language and communication needs for any reason.  

The issue of classification is about clarity! Clear communication will help raise the profile for this group, attract more research and ultimately help resolve the fundamental questions about who should receive intervention and which interventions work … To this end, we owe it to children to be clear.