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Janna B. Oetting, Ph.D.
Louisiana State University

The majority of children learning English as a second, third, or fourth language and those learning dialects of English that differ from those of a school textbook do NOT have developmental language disorder (DLD), but DLD is present in ALL language learning communities. Unfortunately, identifying and treating children with DLD within the context of their different languages is difficult because most of the tools and therapies used by speech-language pathologists haven’t been developed for culturally and linguistically diverse groups of children. If you suspect your child presents with DLD and your child’s first language or dialect is not the same as a school textbook, seek out a speech-language pathologist who knows how to identify and treat DLD within the context of language differences.

Under-Identification and Over-Identification of DLD

Speech-language pathologists are trained to avoid over-diagnosis (inappropriately treating a language difference as a language disorder) and under-diagnosis (inappropriately treating a language disorder as a language difference).

If you are concerned that your child’s abilities are being misunderstood or misdiagnosed, consider asking your speech-language pathologist the following questions:

  • How do we know we are not misinterpreting my child’s language difference as DLD?
  • How do we know we are not misinterpreting my child’s DLD as a language difference?

Speech-language pathologists are data-driven. This means that they should be able to answer both questions with multiple forms of data, including a summary of your concerns, a teacher questionnaire or interview, a classroom observation, and a battery of test scores and measures that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for your child.

Sharing even small concerns with the speech-language pathologist is critical because you know your child better than anyone. With your help, the speech-language pathologist should be able to rule in or out a diagnosis of DLD.


Oetting, J. B. (2019). Variability within varieties of language: Profiles of typicality and impairment. Selected Proceedings of the 7th Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition - North America Conference (pp. 59–82). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.