Language Disorders

January 2019
Language Disorders

Do you know a child who can speak but can’t quite communicate as well as his or her peers? Approximately 7% of all children have a Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). That’s two children in every classroom! DLD is a disorder in learning and using language. Although these children do not have autism, hearing impairment, or intellectual disability, language learning is hard for them. Children with DLD tend to be late to say their first words and to use two-word combinations. In preschool and kindergarten, they tend to use simpler vocabulary words, shorter sentences, and make more grammatical errors than their friends. Often they do not understand spoken and written directions. They may become frustrated and either become withdrawn or aggressive. In school, these difficulties can affect the child’s ability to read and write, to participate in a classroom, to make friendships, and to follow conduct rules.

Surprisingly, DLD is often undiagnosed because people tend to assume the child is lazy, dreamy, inattentive, or aggressive and difficult to get along with. They worry about personality rather than referring for a language assessment. A language assessment can identify areas of strengths and weakness in the child and lead to suggestions for ways to make communication easier. Even if a child doesn’t qualify for special education services, the assessment process may clarify areas where extra support can benefit kids in your care.

The Treatment Efficacy and Language Learning Lab (TELL Lab) at the University of Delaware is interested in studying children with DLD and other at-risk children to see if we can develop treatments that will improve language learning and use. Some of our studies focus on how children learn patterns in language. For instance, one study we are doing asks children ages 7-9 to listen to one of 4 made up languages. These made up languages have different patterns and we would like to know which pattern children learn the best. For instance, is it better to hear the same thing over and over or is it better to mix it up and introduce variety? We use a made-up language so that we know for sure that the kids have never heard the words before. We also wonder if some of these patterns can be applied to more real-world learning situations. For instance, we are asking parents to read books to their preschool children 4 times/week. These books are written using English sentences, but just like the made-up language study we are doing with big kids, we are curious about whether they learn better when some words in the book are repeated frequently in the same context or when those same words are used in a variety of different contexts.

Our lab will be down in Sussex County to screen children for participation in these studies in early February. Families must consent to have their child participate in research in order for us to carry out testing. All study activities can be carried out in Southern Delaware and compensation is available for kids who qualify. If you think you know a child who has difficulty learning language and doesn’t have other significant diagnoses, we would be glad to screen them for participation in our studies and we will make appropriate referrals to other agencies based on our testing. Please reach out to us with any questions you might have (; (302) 831-7121, We would love to hear from you or the families you serve!


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