Developmental Language Delay


Developmental Language Delay

Developmental language delay (DLD), also known as specific language impairment (SLI), refers to delayed acquisition of expressive and receptive language. DLD includes difficulties with vocabulary (semantics) and grammar (morphology and syntax). DLD/SLI can be identified by a speech-language pathologist or psychologist. Assessment for treatment planning and provision of intervention is conducted by a speech-language pathologist.

Learn more about DLD from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:


A speech-language pathologist is able to evaluate and diagnose SSDs and answer the following questions:

  • What is the nature of the child’s difficulties? (e.g., expressive and/or receptive language, vocabulary, aspects of grammar, discourse level, etc.)

  • Is this child’s errors normal for his/her age or are they consistent with a delay/disorder? (e.g., if a child does not yet combine words, is that normal for their age?)

  • How severe is the delay/disorder?

  • What is the child’s prognosis for improvement with intervention?

  • What therapeutic approach and procedures are appropriate to treat the delay/disorder? 


Assessment typically involves:

  • Interview with parents and collection of case history

  • Hearing screening

  • Expressive and receptive language testing

  • Screening of speech sound production

  • Examination of the oral cavity

  • Standardized assessment of expressive and receptive language development (compares an individual child's performance to other children their age)

  • Analysis of samples of natural utterances and responses from standardized assessment

  • Probe for response to treatment strategies


Implications of Developmental Language Delay

DLD can negatively impact a child's success in school, reading and writing development, mathematics (Alt, Arizmendi, & Beal, 2014), and social skills. Without intervention, the gap between children with typically developing language skills and those with DLD widens over time.

S-LPs typically advise against a 'wait and see' approach. Unfortunately, parents often hear this from professionals in other fields.  S-LPs are the professionals qualified to evaluate language development and diagnose language delays and disorders. If a parent has concerns, they should request an evaluation by an S-LP. 


Contact Shoreline to learn about options for intervention.


"Signs of SLI (DLD)"

"Developmental Language Disorder (DLD): The Consensus Explained"

"DLD 1-2-3"

"Lily Farrington's Amazing Developmental Language Disorder Animation"

Early Development of Expressive Language: A Guide for Parents

This chart provides a general guide of the milestones for expressive vocabulary, sentence length, and grammar development. It also provides several red flags to help guide parents to known when to consult with a speech-language pathologist.

References on This Page

Alt, M., Arizmendi, G. D., & Beal, C. R. (2014). Relationship between mathematics and language: Academic implications for children with specific language impairment and English language learners. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 220-233. doi:10.1044/2014_LSHSS-13-0003