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The Differences Between a Language Delay & Disorder


Caregivers may question whether their child has a delay or a disorder.

When caring for a child with special needs, it may not always be easy to identify the challenges that a child is facing. More often than not, caregivers may question whether their child has a delay or a disorder. Diagnosing a child is not always black and white. To navigate the grey area, let’s take a closer look at each one.


A language delay, put plainly, is a delay in the acquisition of language when compared to peers of the same chronological and cognitive age. Here, the child acquires language skills in a neurotypical manner but has a slower rate of progression.


There are many possible causes of language delays. At times there can be multiple factors that contribute to language delays. Here are some common causes of language delays:

  • Sensory Impairments: It is not uncommon for children with hearing impairments to develop language developments as well. If a child is unable to hear language, acquiring language can be very challenging.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): While not all individuals with ASD have language delays, ASD often affects an individuals ability to communicate.

  • Intellectual Disability: Intellectual disabilities such as dyslexia, down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, fragile x syndrome, and other birth defects, may contribute to language delays.


A language disorder differs as the child is acquiring language in an atypical manner which results in disrupted communication across a variety of settings. Individuals with language disorders usually display persistent difficulties in acquiring language skills which cannot be explained by other conditions (e.g., sensory impairments, intellectual disabilities, or ASD).


The direct cause of a language disorder may not always be clear. Here are some causes of language disorders:

  • Aphasia: Difficulty understanding or producing language, typically caused by brain injury or neurological dysfunction.

  • Auditory Processing Disorder: Difficulty understanding the meaning of auditory input.


So, what can we do to address language delays and disorders?


Caregivers can provide the child with interventions catered to their needs. The child’s current level of functioning, strengths, weaknesses, as well as functioning in related domains such as hearing, cognition, and speech will all be taken into consideration. The objective of intervention is to stimulate language acquisition and to teach skills which will improve communication.


The bottom line? If your child is facing issues in communication and language acquisition, it is best to seek professional advice from paediatricians and speech-language therapists if required! Being well-informed about the challenges your child faces can only help in creating a solid plan for intervention.

Written by Aileen



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