The Hidden Developmental Disorder

December 13, 2022

Imagine going to work every single day and failing to understand what your boss is saying, despite your best efforts. Worse yet, your colleagues don’t seem to be struggling at all. This could be how some of your students experience school. Next time you observe a student in your class who struggles to follow your instructions, who never seems to know what to do, who talks around and around what he wants to say, who misses jokes or sarcasm, consider DLD.

If you’ve never heard of Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), you’re not alone. DLD is a communication disorder that impacts the understanding and/or formulation of language in the absence of any other biomedical condition, such as hearing loss or autism. It makes it difficult for a student to put thoughts into words and understand what others are saying. DLD affects speaking, listening, reading, writing, learning, and socializing, yet remains largely a hidden disorder because students with DLD may look just like their typically developing peers. In fact, it’s common enough that 2 kids in your class likely have DLD!

In a language-based school system, students with DLD will have difficulty accessing the curriculum. Language forms the basis for understanding, organizing, and thinking about academic material. They may also demonstrate difficulty with social language (staying on topic, taking turns in conversation, reading nonverbal cues), behaviour, and mental health. Sometimes students with DLD might appear “unmotivated” or “unwilling” to do work. It makes sense that many of these students avoid work (think of the hands up for a bathroom break) when we consider what it must be like to struggle every day in front of peers. Now imagine navigating these struggles with a brain still in development!


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