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About Specific Language Impairment (SLI)

Speech, language and communication underpin everything we do – making our needs known, expressing our likes and dislikes, interacting with others and building relationships.

We often take these skills for granted, but many children struggle to communicate. They have speech, language and communication needs or SLCN.

A child with speech, language and communication needs:

Might have speech that is difficult to understand

They might struggle to say words or sentences

They may not understand words that are being used, or the instructions they hear

They may have difficulties knowing how to talk and listen to others in a conversation

Children may have just some or all of these difficulties; they are all very different.

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is a term that is used to describe difficulties with learning and using language which will be long term, but that are not associated with other conditions, such as cerebral palsy, or autistic spectrum disorders.  In the past DLD was known as specific language impairment (SLI) but the name has changed so that it better reflects the types of difficulties children have. 

There is no obvious reason for these difficulties, for example, there is no hearing problem or physical disability that explains them. This means, for example, a child with DLD might be bright, but struggle to understand the language used in the classroom, or they may have lots of ideas but find it hard to make sentences to say what they are thinking, but they do not have any other condition that may be causing these problems.

DLD looks different in all children and can be complicated to understand because we don’t really know the cause. Scientists think that the part of the brain responsible for speech and language might be wired a little differently from that of a person with more typical language development– but differences are subtle and won’t show up on a brain scan. We also know that genes play an important part in DLD, but there is no medical test to see if a child has it or not. Studies have shown that in five year olds, DLD affects about two children in every classroom in primary school (about 7.6%) and that it is more common in boys than girls.

    • The SLI Handbook helps parents to understand this complicated and confusing difficulty, by describing what SLI can look like in children of all ages and how it is different from other forms of speech, language and communication needs.