‘It is critical that we increase awareness of DLD’ - Doctor

ONE in every 14 children and adults have a Developmental Language Disorder, which causes significant issues with speaking and comprehension for those affected. In a bid to raise awareness of the hidden condition, which is very poorly identified in Ireland, and only becomes apparent to others when they talk to someone with it, and to stop those affected by DLD from feeling overlooked, an International DLD Awareness Day is being held on October 16. Now in its fourth year, The Echo will be marking the awareness day with a three-part series of articles talking to locals about the disorder, and what they want people to know about the condition - and how to seek help if they need it.

By Aideen O'Flaherty

In October 2019 a press release for DLD Awareness Day landed on the news desk of The Echo, catching the eye of office manager Brenda Mockler, whose son Robert has DLD.

Not knowing anything about DLD Awareness Day before that moment, and not knowing who to contact locally, Brenda reached out to Dr Aoife Gallagher in the School of Allied Health at the University of Limerick (UL), where they have conducted studies on school-age children with DLD.

Aoife Gallagher 22 1

Dr Aoife Gallagher from the School of Allied Health at the University of Limerick

For many parents whose children receive a diagnosis of DLD, it can be difficult to know who to turn to and what their next step should be, but the research by Dr Gallagher and her colleagues in UL can be illuminating for people who are trying to understand DLD – and can raise awareness of the condition.

“It is critical that we increase awareness of DLD,” Dr Gallagher told The Echo. “It can have a negative impact on a child's ability to learn, to read and to make friends.

“These difficulties will persist into adulthood.

“We know that approximately seven per cent of the school-aged population (two children in every class of 30) has DLD, but we think that a lot of these children are not known to speech and language services (SLT).

“Some may be receiving treatment help for other difficulties which have developed as a result of the language disorder, like emotional behaviour needs, but the underlying language difficulties are not being addressed.”

1 in 14 Children have DLD 1

A study conducted by UL, looking at the life circumstances of 13-year-olds around the country, found that speech and language needs were starkly underreported compared to other disabilities, which means that some people with DLD might not be accessing therapies that could help them.

When asked about how society can be more inclusive for people with DLD, Dr Gallagher said: “In childhood, the school years are so important.

“A huge challenge is ensuring children and young people with DLD can achieve and participate in class with their peers.

“When we talked to children and young people with DLD about school, what really struck me was the way they described the impact of their problems with understanding.

“These difficulties impacted not just their ability to listen and follow instructions in class but also their ability to read between the lines in social situations with friends ad well as what is not said, that is- all of the unspoken rules in school.

“Universal design for learning is a framework which can guide teachers to plan and deliver their teaching in a way which all children (including those with DLD) can understand.

“The way a child's knowledge is tested might need adapting to ensure they can show their learning. The idea of timed tests for example are very problematic if you have a language disorder, as time to process is very important.

“Later, in terms of employment, it might be about looking at different ways that a candidate can be supported to succeed at interview – not just based on a written application.

“One very important idea is more about our attitudes. Presuming competence means listening and showing that you believe that an individual has a meaningful contribution to make, even if how they can make a contribution is different.”

Looking ahead to International DLD Awareness Day, Dr Gallagher said she hopes that raising awareness of the condition will ultimately help more people affected by the condition to access the help they need, and that it will also highlight the need for these services at a government level.

“Ultimately, we want to influence policy and funding for services for those with DLD,” she said.

“We would like parents and families to see that there are lots of people interested in improving services for their child.

“I would love it if parents felt supported and informed by some of the key messages of the campaign.

“Teachers have such an important role in identifying DLD. If even a handful of teachers identify one child or young person in their class that might have DLD and refer them to SLT then it’s a start!”

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