developmental language disorder vs autism

Clinical Review: Developmental language disorder vs Autism

Posted on
January 24, 2023
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Parents of children with autism have reported late talking as a concern, but a language delay is not directly linked to autism. In this blog, we'll explore the difference between developmental language disorder vs autism.

What is a developmental language disorder vs autism?

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is defined as the diagnosis given to an individual who has difficulty with spoken and/or understanding language. It's also commonly known as an expressive-receptive language disorder. Whereas autism (ASD) can be defined as when an individual has developmental differences in their brain. Autism can include difficulties with social communication and/or interaction, and restricted/repetitive interests or behaviors. Children with DLD generally present difficulties with their communication ability, whereas children with ASD show additional difficulties with their social interaction ability.

developmental language disorder vs autism
Identifying the differences between DLD and ASD

The difference between autistic language delay vs language delay:

  • A language delay will occur if a child is not meeting their developmental milestones in line with children of the same age.
  • An autistic child may use a few words or learn phrases e.g. from tv programs, but they may not use their verbal language in a functional way to communicate. The child may repeat these words/phrases again and again - known as echolalia. The child may use words out of context and may not be relevant to the social situation.
  • A child with a language delay may not be saying words yet, but they will be able to use their body language, gestures, and pointing to communicate their wants and needs. The child will be engaging in play with adults and children. Autistic children will require additional support in understanding and using non-verbal communication, they are more likely to use symbols and communication aids to support their language development.

How early can my child be diagnosed with Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been detected in children at 18 months old or younger. By the age of 2, a diagnosis by a professional can be given (Lord et al, 2006). Children who do not receive their diagnosis at this age will miss out on early intervention and the support they need to achieve their communicative potential. However, early identification is not always essential. It is only useful if it is used to guide early intervention programs, parent education, and access support from health and education services for the child and their family. Check out our early intervention blog here!

Children with speech delays are able to communicate their wants and needs through non-communicative ways e.g. pointing, and eye contact. However, an autistic child will have ongoing problems with delayed and disordered language, and social communication skills regardless of developmental age (Charman & Baird, 2002).

If you have concerns with your autistic child who is not speaking, there is evidence to show that with intervention autistic children aged four and five, were able to make improvements in their language with 70% of children creating simple sentences (Wodka, 2013).

How to monitor my child’s development?

Monitoring your child’s developmental milestones is a great way to track their progress and to see if further assessment is required. If your child is not reaching their milestones, contact your GP with your concerns. See our communication milestone blog here! It is important to note here that autistic children may reach their developmental milestones at any age and do not follow the typical child development pattern.

  1. Lord C, Risi S, DiLavore PS, Shulman C, Thurm A, Pickles A. Autism from 2 to 9 years of age. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Jun;63(6):694-701.
  2. Charman, T & Baird, G. (2002). Practitioner Review: Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in 2- and 3- year old children. J. Psychology  and Psychiatry, 43, 289-305.
  3. CDC Centers of Disease Control and Prevention can sometimes be detected, whether they are adolescents or adults.
  4. National Autistic Society
  5. Autism Speaks
Chloe Crudgington
Speech and Language Therapist
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