Developmental language disorder—unexplained, surprisingly common

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Developmental Language Disorder is a surprisingly common condition unexplained by known biomedical factors’, says Speech and Language Development Australia Board Chair Peter Seldon.

‘It is characterised by lifelong difficulties with understanding and using spoken language, and is estimated to affect at least 1 in 15 children worldwide. This makes Developmental Language Disorder more common than autism spectrum disorder and about as common as childhood asthma.

Mr Seldon was commenting on Developmental Language Disorder—a disability, education and health challenge, an Evidence Brief published today by the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Associations Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research.

‘Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is likely the result of a combination of biological, genetic and environmental risk factors. It is not only a public health concern, it is associated with academic failure, poor employment outcomes, and social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties.’

‘DLD has a significant economic impact in terms of lost productivity of children and parents, and costs borne by the health and welfare system.

‘There are additional costs associated with youth justice and education. A disproportionate 46% to 51% of young male offenders in contact with the youth justice system have a language impairment.

‘In terms of policies and services for children with DLD, a 2013 Senate Inquiry found that these were fragmented across across the health, education and disability sectors, and across national, state and territory jurisdictions’, Mr Seldon said.

‘There were, and are, clear policy gaps and differences in eligibility criteria, resulting in differences in access to affordable services across the states and territories and up to 55% of children missing out on help altogether.

‘Access to services funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is problematic because DLD has no known biomedical causes—so decisions about eligibility can be inconsistent depending on the jurisdiction, the time in a child’s life when a claim is lodged, and who is doing the assessing.’

‘Further, an ABC investigation found that children with disabilities—including DLD—living in low socioeconomic status areas can wait up to 2 years longer than children in wealthier suburbs for access to services such as speech pathology. And the number of speech pathologists employed within state and territory education departments clearly falls short of demand, and internationally-accepted child-to-speech-pathologist ratios.

‘In summary, DLD is a complicated problem spanning a complicated set of available and unavailable services and support—and a lack of solid research on which to base some good decisions.

‘The authors suggest that a good place to start resolving these problems would be to review known gaps across health, education and disability legislation relating to childhood language disorders—but with special consideration of the impact and burden of DLD on children, families and government.’


Developmental Language Disorder—a disability, education and health challenge is available on the AHHA website

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.

Speech & Language Development Australia (SALDA) is the nation’s peak body supporting and advocating for the needs of children and young people with speech, language and related disorders.


Media enquiries:
Peter Seldon, Board Chair, Speech and Language Development Australia, 
0418 225 378