“There are so many strategies that can help, much like baking a cake, ingredients for each one can only be fine-tuned with commitment and time spent to get the recipe right.”

The things I wish all educators knew about recognising, enabling and supporting children with DLD are subtle, but are insights that only come when you have lived the life with your child.

As a mum of a (nearly) 12-year-old boy who has DLD and verbal dyspraxia we have had a long evolving, and at times seemingly unending, journey through his earliest years. As we prepare to see him finish primary school, I find myself reflecting on the things his language and communication profile has taught all of us, as well as the many insights I would like to share with any educator new to the orbit of a child with such language difficulties…

  • Children need to have maximum exposure to the largest possible community, and so in turn maximum exposure to different characters, different accents, different speech patterns and the faces that go with them.
  • The awakening of emotions is a distinct arena of challenge for children with DLD. Feelings come secondary to them registering the ‘feeling’ of those feelings, and consciously identifying the physical impact in their bodies.
  • Injury can often elicit a disproportionate rage and overreaction centred on their primal need to make you stay away. The instinct of the onlooker to ask ‘What happened?’ can add a layer of distress and upset from an unwanted language load that distracts from their primal need to salve their own response to the physical pain as a front brain response.
  • Boundaries that are consistently applied and make sense are crucial. And when I say ‘make sense’, they should make sense to the child.
  • Practising the more difficult social skills as young as possible alongside a trusted friend, teacher or buddy helps them mirror and imitate social cues visually and first-hand.

Often children with DLD are some of the smiliest and most animated of all pupils in the mid-primary years. Once the confusion of the early years has washed over them, and with the right support, they can coast through. But don’t be fooled as there will come a moment, as there is with any prepubescent, when the shift to anxious acceptance of their awareness and extent of their difficulties can become keenly felt.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the lived experience of the anger, disappointment and frustration that children with DLD can go through. It can be hard to witness and is always inflammatory for all the relationship dynamics within a family. This may well be at home at the end of the school day when they have managed to keep a lid on things all day. There are so many strategies that can help these children and, much like baking a cake, the individual ingredients for each one can only be fine-tuned with commitment and time spent to get the recipe right.

My Top Tips

Give them time – ‘Count to ten’ is the hardest but most valuable rule, especially in a new relationship with a child or young person.

Find all the languages – Learn Makaton as a universal whole school approach or establish a range of mutually understood words and their visual signs for them to feel connected and represented in their classroom.

Help build their personality portfolio – Give children with DLD a camera of their own. The images they collect can be a great insight to their emerging understanding of concepts, their patterns of interest and early categorisations in a visual way.

Pick your moments – The most important times for 1:1 or buddy attention are at break and lunchtime. Often children with DLD do not lack communicative intent, but the necessary word finding or speech sound skills make it difficult for them to take part fully and keep up in these more fluid times of the day.

Behaviour is always emotion – Offer clear boundaries for pro-social behaviour as a choice.

Be in the moment with them as often as you can – The shared points of reference can be a useful trigger of memory for children with DLD, and the words that go with the memory.

DLD’s Got Talent – Find the thing that they are good at. Try lots of physical activities, explore retained reflexes and movement sequences that strengthen their co-ordination, balance and core strength. For children with DLD, moving on to emotional regulation securely can only happen once they are the drivers and masters of their own physical bodies. Let them move, and often.

Future proof friendships – Grow friendship groups around them, offer team games, associative play opportunities and a chance to just hang out.

Smile – No matter how difficult children with communication difficulties find life and school learning, it’s all they know and they need your friendship and support. They are the students that take the most effort because they talk a different language, but they will teach you the most about how real communication works.

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