In this article, Sue Marr explains what DLD is and how mainstream teachers can support children and young people in class.

Moor House is one of the very few schools in the country specialising in supporting pupils aged 7-19, with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), providing individually tailored education with integrated speech and language therapy for those with the most severe and complex forms of the condition.

What is Developmental Language Disorder?

• Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is when a child or adult has difficulties talking and/or understanding language but does not have another biomedical condition such as Autism or intellectual disability.

• These difficulties can impact on literacy, learning, friendships and emotional well-being.

How common is it?

• Recent research in Surrey found that 7% of children have Developmental Language Disorder.

• This means that in an average class of 30, two children may have DLD.

• It is much more common than Autism, yet it remains a ‘hidden condition’ that is often missed, misdiagnosed or misinterpreted as poor behaviour, poor listening or inattention.

Strategies for supporting children and young people with DLD

Support from professionals can make a real difference to children with DLD. Speech and language therapists and specialist teachers can help them to develop skills and strategies, and to understand their difficulties and their strengths. Mainstream teachers can support children through understanding the individual child’s difficulties and by making very simple adaptations to their teaching practice by using these ten key strategies:

1. Time – allow the pupil with DLD more time to process information and instructions, receptive language, and to formulate their answers, expressive language.

2. Visual support – using visual prompting can help to signpost activities for pupils with DLD and trigger memory. Make use of interactive whiteboards, iPads, Apps and videos from the internet. Provide visual timetables, language rich displays and clear/simple signage around the school. Add pictures to your worksheets and where possible make use of real-life objects

3. Sign it – signing supports the development of expressive language and helps with understanding as a child/young person is given an extra ‘visual clue.’ The majority of teachers are not trained signers but what we all do well is to use gestures, facial expressions and body language in our everyday teaching. So, if you have a pupil with DLD in your class, try to ensure that you use these skills more overtly! It might also be useful to learn or make up your own signs for key curriculum vocabulary for the whole class to learn.

4. Do it – pupils with DLD respond well when provided with a multi-sensory teaching approach. Try to provide plenty of opportunities for kinaesthetic learning, especially in topics that have a heavy language load. Start with the pupils first-hand experience, focus on life skills and creative tasks where possible. Throughout practical activities, model the language you want the pupil to use. This will then support any subsequent spoken or written tasks.

5. Modify your language – slow your rate of speech! Give one instruction at a time and build the task up. Keep your sentences short and concise, pause in between sentences so pupils can process the information more easily. Be prepared to rephrase what you say more than once. Try to use word order that follows time, for example, ‘Finish question 10 before you go outside’’ is easier for a pupil with DLD to understand than “Before you go outside finish question 10.” Where possible, simplify vocabulary for example, using the word ‘make’ instead of ‘produce.’

6. Chunk information – to support the pupils understanding of everyday instructions, chunk the information by using pauses, for example, “tidy your desk…collect your planner… then line up.” It is often useful to repeat the instruction again! Be explicit, use literal language. Pupils with DLD struggle to understand inference and language forms such as idioms and metaphors.

7. Words – pupils with DLD will know fewer words than their typically developing peers. It is vital that we teach new words, ensuring that key curriculum vocabulary is explicitly taught. Try to plan vocabulary activities that target subject specific words because pupils with DLD will not ‘pick up’ new vocabulary like their classmates. Perhaps set aside 5 minutes at the start of lessons for ‘vocabulary time.’ The whole class could benefit, particularly in subjects such as maths and science, as the vocabulary used, can be very abstract and involve complex temporal or spatial language.

8. Small steps – break down tasks into smaller and more manageable parts. Provide a tick list so the pupils can see their progress and know what to do next.

9. Repeat it – try to recap previous learning at the beginning of each lesson. Many pupils with DLD have difficulties with working memory and so benefit from prompting. Throughout the lesson, repeat what you want the children to learn and model the use of targeted vocabulary. Do the same activity more than once but make small changes each time to extend learning. Ask the pupils to repeat back to you what they have been asked to do so that you can assess their understanding.

10. Model it – whether spoken or written, always model the language you want the pupil with DLD to use. Provide them with a toolkit of phrases/sentence structures that they can use to answer specific question forms 

These ten strategies should not be viewed as ‘extra workload’ for teachers. Supporting pupils with Developmental Language Disorder is really about good classroom practice….. Making lessons visual/practical, prioritising vocabulary, varying teaching approaches, using innovative resources, being consistent and allowing time for consolidation of learning.

Moor House aims to share expertise and specialist knowledge with the wider community, including with staff in mainstream schools and colleges. Bespoke training sessions can be provided to primary schools, secondary schools and further education colleges, with courses suited to the requirements of the staff and students.

Sue Marr
Author: Sue Marr

Sue Marr
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Sue Marr is an experienced teacher in both mainstream and SEN settings.  She has taught pupils with Developmental Language Disorder for many years and has extensive experience of devising and delivering a mainstream curriculum that has been highly differentiated for the language needs of the pupils in her class.


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