THROWBACK PUB: So, it's "Developmental Language Disorder" now?

Typically, when we pull a “Throwback Pub” for a review, we aim to cover just one study. However, this topic ended up requiring a bit more than that. The initial paper of interest was published July 2016, but not in a regular TISLP journal, thus not included in the July reviews. That consensus study was a summary recommendations from a panel of clinician and scientist experts on child language disorders (primarily from the U.K., but with representation from several English-speaking countries). The group convened to bring order to the diagnosis and description of child language disorders. Various points are covered in that article, but in this post we'll focus on terminology only, because it has been such a hot topic over the past few years. So, we ask:

For children with language disorders not associated with other conditions (e.g. autism, hearing loss), what is the term used for their language disorder?
In the consensus paper, the terms "Language Disorder" and “Developmental Language Disorder” are used. The recent DSM-5 uses “Language Disorder” as well. Dr. Susan Ebbels wrote a summary statement on the consensus here, indicating that for kids without co-existing conditions, current best practice is to use “Developmental Language Disorder” (big movement on Twitter these days to normalize this term, using #devlangdis).
When I first noticed people using #devlangdis, it made sense why we’d want consistent terminology. After all, there is one term for autism, one term for dyslexia. Inconsistency in terms used to label developmental language disorder interferes with our ability to advocate for and treat these children. However, I couldn’t quite figure out why we should use *this* term over others. I’m pretty accustomed to using "Specific Language Impairment," and wasn’t particularly interested in parting with it (nor are others—see here). It wasn’t until I read this commentary that I began to understand and get behind #devlangdis (the commentary kicks off a series of papers that provide a more in-depth rationale). And the core arguments are this: a) consistency in terminology is important for action, and b) rationales for using other terms, like “Specific Language Impairment”, are problematic (e.g. SLI implies cognitive exclusionary criteria). 

Still not convinced? Try these exercises, and you’ll at least feel the frustration that has motivated the call for consistency:

  • Pretend you’re a parent searching for information on your child’s language disorder. You may start with Wikipedia (spoiler alert: it’s a hot mess). Wikipedia isn't exactly a trustworthy resource, but it does tend to represents knowledge trends. And, as you'll see, there are multiple pages representing language disorders, each using different terminology (e.g. here & here) and pointing to reputable resources that only further confuse the reader. How on earth are parents, students, and non-SLPs supposed to make sense of anything if the same disorder is referred to with several different terms?
  • Now try visiting ASHA's website (!). You’ll find that even ASHA needs some editing. They’re pretty consistent with using “Language Disorder”, but it's still a bit confusing when they have one page labeled “Spoken Language Disorders” and another page labeled “Preschool Language Disorders.”  And within the former, it presents language disorder and SLI as though they’re entirely distinct diagnoses, confusing those who haven’t read up on the topic.

So, time for TISLP to start translating "language impairment" and SLI to DLD (and specifying differences in study samples, as needed)? Alright, then: #devlangdis

Bishop, D.V.M., Snowling, M.J., Thompson, P.A., & Greenhalgh, T., & CATALISE consortium. (2016) CATALISE: A Multinational and Multidisciplinary Delphi Consensus Study. Identifying Language Impairments in Children. PLoS ONE, 11(7).