5 Signs of Developmental Language Disorders in Your Classroom

Developmental Language Disorders in the classroom

Ella has always flown under the radar at school. She is polite and kind and always looks ‘busy’ during classroom tasks. Ella progressed well with literacy skills in Kindergarten and Year 1 but since starting year 2, Ella has struggled with complex spelling rules and context-specific vocabulary. Ella enjoys class discussions but when she is called on, she usually needs help to structure her answer appropriately.

Ella actually has a diagnosis of a developmental language disorder and her story is very common. If this sounds familiar in your classroom, keep reading:

What are Developmental Language Disorders?

A Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) refers to difficulty understanding or using language. Let’s take a moment to investigate the different types of Developmental Language Disorders.

1.       Receptive Language Disorder

Receptive language refers to what we understand – we demonstrate our understanding by following directions and instructions or carrying out tasks in the order that was specified. In your classroom, your students show their receptive language capabilities by following your verbal instructions (e.g. ‘hats in your bags and sitting on the floor’) and by sequencing activities correctly (e.g. ‘write your name at the top, colour and cut out the craft’).

2.       Expressive Language Disorder

Expressive language is like the flipside of receptive language – expressive language refers to the language that we USE. In the classroom, your students show their expressive language capabilities by verbally answering questions, structuring text types appropriately and retelling stories accurately (just to name a few examples!)

Children can be diagnosed with a receptive language disorder, an expressive language disorder or sometimes they may be diagnosed with delays in both areas. This can have significant impacts on how they function in your classroom.

What Causes Developmental Language Disorders in Our Students?

Often, the cause of a language disorder in unknown, however there are a few identified ‘risk factors’ that increase the likelihood that your students may present with language delays:

·       A family history of Developmental Language Disorder

·       A diagnosis of Autism or ADHD

·       A diagnosis of a developmental disability, such as Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy

·       Hearing loss

·       Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

·       A history of trauma or maulnutrition

What is The Difference Between a Developmental Language Disorder and a Speech Disorder?

A quick note about ‘speech’ vs ‘language’ as these two terms can often be confused. When we refer to a child’s speech, we generally mean the actual sounds that they are producing – like ‘p’, ‘t’, ‘m’ or ‘k’. 

Language is more detailed in that it refers to the information and grammar that your students understand and use. If your students say ‘I see three horse’ or ‘I see three mouses’, these are examples of language errors, rather than speech errors.

How Common Are Developmental Language Disorders in Children?

Developmental language disorders are more common that you think! Research indicates that approximately 1 in 14 children have a developmental language disorder, which could be two students in your classroom.

It’s also important to consider that many children who are neurodivergent (e.g. Autistic children) are at greater risk of developing a language disorder.

5 Signs That Your Students May Have a Language Disorder

So what are the signs that your students may be struggling with language and need additional support? Let’s dive into the major signs:

1.       Receptive Language Difficulties:

·       Difficulty remembering and carrying out classroom instructions

·       Difficulty answering comprehension questions

2.       Expressive Language Difficulties:

·       Lack of descriptive words in written texts

·       Use of ‘filler’ words such as ‘stuff’ or ‘things’ instead of specific vocabulary

3.       Literacy Difficulties

·       Difficulty structuring a written text such as a Narrative or Persuasive Text

·       Breaking up words into their syllables, e.g. ‘’com-pu-ter”

4.       Social Skill Difficulties

·       Difficulties joining in play with others or following agreed playground rules

·       Difficulties with perspective taking

5.       Attention Difficulties

·       Difficulty getting started on a classroom activity

·       Difficulty with maintaining attention on an activity or requiring additional clarification and repetition to complete the task successfully


Learn More About the Signs of Developmental Language Disorders:

Want more information on the signs of Developmental Language Disorders in your classroom? Grab the free Fact Sheet 

“Red Flags for Language Disorders In Your Classroom” right here. 

This go-to reference will support you to:

·       Identify the different subject areas that may be challenging for students with Developmental Language Disorders.

·       Identify different classroom tasks which may be challenging for students with Developmental Language Disorders.

·       Identify different behaviours which can indicate that your students are struggling with receptive or expressive language in your classroom.

Developmental Language Disorders Free Fact Sheet

Developmental Language Disorders can have significant impacts on our students. By educating ourselves on the signs of these delays in our classroom, we can then provide the supports and adjustments necessary to help our students thrive.

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