October 2023 saw the publishing of an important document highlighting months of work involving a key partnership of organisations. The partnership worked with adults and young people with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), their families and other professionals, to articulate what those with DLD would like their futures to look like and how to ensure this happens.

The document entitled “A Vision for Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) for the UK” outlines a comprehensive plan for addressing the challenges faced by individuals with DLD. The document emphasises five key ambitions:

The ambitions

Raising Awareness of DLD: The first ambition aims for widespread awareness of DLD. Despite international campaigns, such as DLD awareness day, and the work of RADLD (Raising Awareness of DLD), awareness among education and health professionals remains low. This leads to individuals with DLD being misunderstood. Increased awareness is seen as crucial to improving services, policies, research, and support, ultimately enhancing the daily lives of those with DLD.

Accessible Support: The second ambition focuses on ensuring individuals with DLD can access the right support at the right time. Many individuals and organisations report long waiting lists and insufficient interim support from speech and language therapy services, often due to funding and capacity issues.

The vision calls for a fair and accessible system for all, regardless of geographical location or educational level. The absence of DLD-specific support services for adults by the NHS is highlighted, with easier access to support deemed essential for better life outcomes and reduced mental health impacts.

Early Diagnosis: The third ambition emphasises the importance of early diagnosis: Individuals with DLD often face challenges due to delayed diagnosis, with some receiving disciplinary action in the workplace or exclusion from school, instead of the support they deserve. The vision advocates for simplifying the diagnostic process, sharing good practice, and addressing the difficulties parents face in obtaining a timely NHS diagnosis.

Early diagnosis is viewed as transformative, providing self-awareness and facilitating understanding and adjustments by others.

Inclusive Schools and Workplaces: The fourth ambition focuses on enabling schools and workplaces to become more inclusive for individuals with DLD. Many young people report feeling overwhelmed in classrooms due to complex language use, with adults with DLD struggling in workplaces where managers and colleagues are often unaware of DLD.

The vision suggests simple and low-cost changes, such as visual aids and inclusive job application processes, to create more supportive environments.

Independence: The fifth ambition spotlights the importance of ensuring individuals with DLD go on to lead independent lives. This includes acquiring life skills for adulthood and eliminating the association between DLD and mental health issues in adulthood, through ensuring adequate support during education and childhood.

The vision acknowledges that DLD affects educational outcomes, employment rates, and mental health, emphasising the need for services to address DLD throughout an individual’s lifespan.

How Speech & Language Link supports this work

Each year, UK schools carry out 245,000 Speech & Language Link assessments. Using these screening tools, schools can identify pupils who they can support directly and those who would be best supported by a speech and language therapist. Many of the latter group have DLD.

Speech & Language Link offers school-delivered tools and interventions to help ensure that pupils with DLD can access the right support at the right time. One of the mechanisms for achieving this is ensuring that speech and language therapy services are not overwhelmed by supporting children and young people whose needs can be managed in schools.

An action plan

“A Vision for Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) for the UK” concludes by outlining the actions that organisations and individuals can take to achieve the vision. This includes strategic awareness plans, support for speech and language therapists, early diagnosis initiatives, creating guides for schools and workplaces, and understanding the needs of individuals with DLD and their families. The overall goal is to create a national strategy driven by the vision to improve outcomes for people with DLD and benefit society as a whole.

We look forward to being part of this evolving work.

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