DLD Day: A hidden difficulty in legal proceedings

20th October 2023 marks Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) Day. The importance of this event is not to be underestimated. DLD is one of the least known speech, language and communication difficulties, but a condition which affects approximately 7.6% of all children (amounting to around 1 million children in the UK). Its prevalence in adults is unknown, however, DLD is a lifelong condition and a great many adults with DLD are likely to be undiagnosed.

What is DLD?

DLD is a learning difficulty (like dyslexia, ADHD and dyspraxia), which specifically affects an individual’s language skills. A person with DLD will have difficulty “learning, understanding and using language”. They may struggle to follow language (e.g., instructions and verbal information), find it difficult to learn new vocabulary (for example, terminology used in a court case), and have difficulty expressing themselves with clarity.

In terms of expressive language, a person with DLD may use very short and simple sentences, struggling to express more complex or detailed information clearly. They may make more frequent use of generic placeholder words instead of specific terms (e.g., “Thingy” instead of “Threshold”), their expressive language may be ‘jumbled’ and difficult to follow (featuring lots of hesitations, broken sentences, or verbs which don’t match with pronouns).

Quick Resources

You can find a factsheet on DLD from Raise Awareness of DLD (RADLD) here.

Download Communicourt’s free guide to DLD in legal proceedings here (which includes tips for legal professionals working with a client who has DLD).

Listen to our Accessing Justice Podcast episode on DLD with Becky Clark (speech & language therapist)

DLD in adults

Although DLD prevalence statistics generally relate to children, DLD is a lifelong condition, which also affects adults. Previously known by other labels such as Specific Language Impairment (SLI), and expressive-receptive language disorder, today’s terminology for the condition was coined in 2017. Prior to the use of this diagnostic label, few diagnoses of “SLI” (and related terms) were made. As such, very few adults with DLD have ever received a diagnosis or specific support for their language difficulties.

Working as an intermediary, I am yet to encounter an adult who has a diagnosis of DLD, despite encountering many court users who present with specific difficulties with language (unrelated to another diagnosis, such as a learning disability).

This lack of diagnosis, combined with widespread unawareness of DLD, results in many adults living with a hidden learning difficulty. This carries with it many possible negative impacts, including an increased likelihood of interaction with the criminal justice system.

To mark DLD Day in 2022, we shared some statistic regarding the prevalence of DLD in the criminal justice system (CJS). These statistics remain troubling, illustrating the high level of language difficulty within the CJS:

Raise Awareness this DLD Day

This year, the theme of DLD Day is DLD Around the World, spreading awareness of DLD in countries across the globe. You can find lots of resources, including DLD factsheets in different languages on the RADLD website. Here you will also find information about the DLD “Light Up” events (where buildings across the world are illuminated in purple and yellow to raise awareness) and lots of brilliant resources (like pre-made social media posts) you can share to increase awareness and understanding of DLD. To show your support, why not…