Language disorder that affects two kids in every classroom often goes undiagnosed, U of A researchers say

Speech-language pathologists at UAlberta speak up for Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) Awareness Day on Sept 22

Amanda McCarthy - 22 September 2017

Imagine sitting in class and not really understanding the teacher's instructions. Then imagine watching everyone else completing their work and not knowing what to do or how to ask for help.

This is what approximately two children in every classroom are currently experiencing-and the condition is going undiagnosed.

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is a communication problem that creates difficulties when talking and/or understanding language. A new term, it has also been referred to as 'language delay,' 'language impairment,' 'language learning problems,' or 'specific language impairments.'

The new terminology, DLD, has been established by an international panel of experts in order to develop a consistent term and move away from the confusion and misunderstanding that was caused by the variety of labels.

Confusion and misunderstanding that two University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine researchers would like to help clear up.

"DLD is often a hidden disorder. The children and adults who have DLD do not look any different, and in many ways, may not act any different. The disorder is not easily recognizable and therefore can often go undiagnosed," says Joanne Volden, professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

However, there are common symptoms that can be used to catch and treat the condition.

"In very young children, parents may first notice that the child is not babbling or starting to produce their first words like other children. They may be late to start combining words into little sentences," says Monique Charest, assistant professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

"When they reach preschool age, they may continue to have trouble learning words and may not be able to tell you about what they are thinking and what they need. They may use a lot of non-specific words such as 'this' and 'that'."

"If not diagnosed, the condition can have long-term impacts into adulthood. Impacts that can affect the person's ability to do their job, learn new information, or socialize and participate in group settings," adds Volden.

Symptoms can also result in childhood behavioural issues, which can sometime confuse people, as affected children can be seen as inattentive, unmotivated or disobedient.

"Parents and professionals are encouraged to consider alternative explanations for challenging behaviour. They are not always a result of language disorders, but they could arise out of difficulties with language," says Charest.

DLD is typically diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist using a combination of formal tests, and observation from parents and teachers. That's why it's so important for everyone to be aware of the condition and take the proper steps for intervention.

"Speech-language pathologists definitely need to be familiar with DLD, but it's also very important for teachers, psychologists, physicians, daycare providers, members of health teams, families and policy makers to be aware," says Volden. "Basically, anyone who may be involved in providing services to children."

Charest agrees, noting that while more people need to be aware, there also needs to be more available supports in place.

"There is a lot that can be done to help individuals with DLD, but we need more therapy to be available for those that need it. Right now, a big focus of the profession is trying to raise awareness of the need for therapy resources, and, of course, of the condition as a whole."

And with promotion ramping up for Developmental Language Disorder Awareness Day on September 22, both researchers hope to shed some light on the most important fact: There is a lot that can be done to help.

"With focused therapy, we can help children learn vocabulary and how to put their words into sentences. We can teach them how to get help when they need help."

For more information about Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) visit the Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorders (RADLD) YouTube channel. Information and resources can also be found on the Alberta College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists website or the Speech-Language and Audiology Canada website.