Abilities and disabilities among children with developmental language disorder

Karla McGregor, Nancy Ohlmann, Nicola Eden, Timothy Arbisi-Kelm, Alys Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: To determine the strengths, 20 weaknesses, and disabilities associated with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) in first-grade children and explore the relationship between impairment, disability, and receipt of language services.
Method: We queried the parents or guardians of 35 children with DLD and 44 children with typical language development (TD) about their children's strengths, weaknesses, and language services using 1) the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale-3 2) a case history intake, and 3) a prompt asking them to share a moment when they were particularly proud of their children. We analyzed these mixed methods data, first focusing on comparisons of the DLD and TD groups, then exploring the relationship between impairment, disability, and receipt of services for individual children within the DLD group. The interpretation of the quantitative data was enriched by a thematic analysis of the proud moment narratives.
Results: The group-mean performance of the children with DLD met age-expectations for domestic and personal aspects of daily living, play and coping aspects of socialization, and gross motor function. Personal, play, and gross motor functions were relative strengths for many individuals with DLD. Parents of children with DLD tended to express pride in their children’s helpfulness to others, their ability to behave well without prompting, and their ability to overcome obstacles. At the group and individual levels, receptive, expressive, and written communication, academics, and the community functions of daily living were clear areas of weakness and, for some, these constituted disabilities. What distinguished children with functional weaknesses and disabilities from those with healthy function was not the level of language impairment but the presence or absence of cumulative developmental risks in the biopsychosocial milieu of the individual child. Compared to children with healthy function, a larger portion of children with weaknesses and disabilities were receiving language services; however, some children who were disabled were without services.
Conclusions: Children with DLD present with predictable strengths and weaknesses. For some children, the weaknesses are mild, but for others, they limit function to a greater extent and should be considered disabilities. The severity of language impairment is not a good predictor of the presence of disability and, therefore, is not a good metric for determining whether a child qualifies for language services under IDEA.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)927-951
Number of pages24
JournalLanguage, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2023


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