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Three questions about delayed language development in children

Around seven per cent of children have difficulty learning their mother tongue because they have some form of developmental language disorder (DLD). World DLD Day on 15 October called attention to this disorder. Development psychologist Neeltje van den Bedem explains why this is important.

What is a developmental language disorder?

‘Children with a developmental language disorder have difficulty learning their first language without there being any obvious reason for this. Children with a DLD often do learn the language but much more slowly and it is harder for them than we would expect. They have a limited vocabulary, find it hard to formulate grammatical sentences and are slow at understanding the language of others.’

Why is it important to focus more attention on this?  

‘We use language all day, every day, without really thinking about it. If a child doesn't do what you ask, you can all too easily think it's because they are being stubborn or annoying, and you then become angry. But if the child has a DLD, they may simply not have understood what you were asking. It is important that DLD becomes better known so that we can offer these children more effective support. When making a diagnosis, we use language-based tests far too often. The question is whether you are then measuring what you wanted to measure.' 

How will your research help us understand DLD better? 

‘It is through social contact that you learn to recognise and understand emotions. Language problems make this much more difficult because you find it hard to follow the explanations other people give. To test this, we often use language-related questions such as: ''Is your child able to express what he or she is feeling?'' So we decided to study how we can measure this and assess how it correlates with children's language problems so that we can make the right diagnoses. According to their parents, it appears that children with a DLD have more problems understanding emotion, regardless of how serious the language problems are.’

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