Back to fact sheets
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service

Developmental language disorder fact sheet

Developmental language disorder

Developmental language disorder (DLD) is a diagnosis given to a person who has difficulty talking and/or understanding language. It has been known as expressive-receptive language disorder, specific language impairment, or speech-language impairment. DLD is now the term for these language problems.

DLD can be a ‘hidden’ difficulty. Sometimes it’s mistaken for a problem with behaviour or attention. It’s a lifelong condition that can have a big impact on friendships, learning at school and finding a job.

Approximately 1 in 14 children have DLD.

Signs and symptoms

Difficulties are often picked up during childhood, although a teenager or adult can be diagnosed with DLD. Children with DLD may:

  • struggle to find the words to express ideas
  • have trouble organising sentences, having conversations or telling a story
  • find it hard to understand words, follow instructions or answer questions
  • not remember what someone has said
  • have difficulty paying attention
  • have difficulty reading and writing.

DLD commonly occurs with other diagnoses like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other specific learning disorders.

What causes it?

DLD isn’t caused by a medical problem or lack of exposure to language. Learning more than one language does not cause DLD.

There is no single cause, but it does tend to run in families.

How is it diagnosed?

DLD is most commonly diagnosed at about 5 years, usually by a speech pathologist.

As part of your child’s assessment, there are likely to be language, hearing and vision tests. Your child’s developmental history and information from families, carers or teachers about their daily activities will be important. If there has been little improvement in language skills even when support has been given, this will also be considered when making a diagnosis.

If you have concerns about your child’s language development, see your GP, child health service or a speech pathologist.

Early diagnosis can help to improve long-term outcomes.


A speech pathologist can give parents/carers strategies to help their child improve their language skills and reduce the impact of their communication difficulties.

Try to:

  • use pictures, actions and demonstrations that help improve understanding
  • sit face-to-face to gain and keep your child’s attention
  • use simple language and allowing your child to respond in their own time
  • use short instructions, then repeat and explain.

It’s okay for children to use actions, such as pointing or facial expressions to support their spoken communication.

If your child is diagnosed with DLD, let their teacher and school know. If others understand your child’s difficulties and what works best for your child, they may be able to help. Some children and young people will need ongoing support.

Key points

  • Developmental language disorder isn’t caused by a medical problem or lack of exposure to language.
  • It can be a hidden difficulty as behaviour, attention or literacy can also be affected.
  • Developmental language disorder is usually diagnosed by a speech pathologist, most commonly when the child is about 5 years.
  • If you have concerns about your child’s language development, see your GP, child health service or a speech pathologist.

For more information

Speech Pathology Australia |
Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder |

Developed by the Speech Pathology Department, Queensland Children’s Hospital. We acknowledge the input of consumers and carers.

Resource ID: FS046 Reviewed: June 2021

This information has been produced by healthcare professionals as a guideline only and is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your child’s doctor or healthcare professionals. Information is updated regularly, so please check you are referring to the most recent version. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.