Pascale Dubois, Université Laval McGill University
Marie-Catherine St-Pierre, Université Laval
Chantal Desmarais, Université Laval
Frédéric Guay, Université Laval
Young adulthood is an exciting and challenging period of life. When young adults have developmental language disorder (DLD) , however, they may worry about their education, employment, and independent living. In this post, we discuss the results of a recent literature review focusing on differences between individuals with DLD and those who have typical development in three life areas (Dubois et al., 2020). We found that some young adults with DLD do not experience serious problems whereas others struggle.
Many young adults with DLD attend post-secondary education. Most attend vocational education or community college, but some attend university. Students with DLD are at a higher risk of leaving school earlier than students who have no language challenges.
Young adults with DLD have similar employment rates to their peers. Moreover, they get along with their work colleagues as their peers do. In addition, some work outcomes for adults with and without DLD are comparable such as job satisfaction, levels of support, or job security. Nevertheless, some challenges exist. The job interview, for example, can be difficult for people with DLD. Young adults with DLD can also experience longer periods of unemployment. Their jobs are often in trades such as services, sales, food, and construction. Young adults with DLD have similar pay to their peers working in similar jobs. However, discrepancies are observed later in life, namely in their thirties. At this point, adults with DLD tend to have lower incomes than their peers.
As an adult, living independently is valued in western societies. However, DLD is associated with various challenges in this area. More precisely, young adults with DLD may struggle to manage their finances and live by themselves. They are more likely to become a parent earlier in life, including during the teen age years. Moreover, a smaller percentage of those with DLD have a driver’s license compared to their peers. Although they usually succeed in a road test, they may have difficulties passing the written exam to obtain a driver’s license.
Regarding social and community involvement, young adults with DLD tend to be shyer and have lower self-esteem than their peers. Thus, some adults with DLD can have difficulties integrating into a community or making friends, but those with higher levels of empathy do better in that regard. We did not find that adults with DLD are any more likely than peers to get in trouble with the law. They also have access to similar support from their family and friends for tasks such as running errands or dealing with social situations, but they tend to rely more on others than their peers.
Can we predict these outcomes with language abilities?
Young adults with DLD have persistent difficulties in oral and written language abilities (Botting, 2020). Does it mean that young adults who struggle the most with language are also those at risk of struggling the most in education, employment, and independent living? Not necessarily. In the studies we reviewed, scores on language tests were not consistently related to these outcomes. Thus, a lot remains to be known to better understand why some young adults with DLD reach high achievements while many others struggle.
What is next?
This review reveals both the challenges and achievements of young adults with DLD. Having a clearer portrait of life outcomes is helpful in advocating for services during childhood and adolescence. This portrait also indicates the importance of continued support in adulthood (Conti-Ramsden et al., 2018; Durkin et al., 2017). Recent advocating initiatives from youth with DLD show how much they strive for optimal social participation (e.g., RADLD, 2019, 2020). We thus encourage researchers and practitioners to build on this foundation. Let’s offer better support to these young people so that they can achieve their full potential.
- Botting, N. (2020). Language, literacy and cognitive skills of young adults with developmental language disorder (DLD). International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 55(2), 255-265. https://doi.org/10.1111/1460-6984.12518 
- Conti-Ramsden, G., Durkin, K., Toseeb, U., Botting, N., & Pickles, A. (2018). Education and employment outcomes of young adults with a history of developmental language disorder. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 53(2), 237-255. https://doi.org/10.1111/1460-6984.12338 
- Dubois, P., St-Pierre, M.-C., Desmarais, C., & Guay, F. (2020). Young adults with developmental language disorder: A systematic review of education, employment, and independent living outcomes. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 63(11), 3786-3800. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_JSLHR-20-00127 
- Durkin, K., Toseeb, U., Botting, N., Pickles, A., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2017). Social confidence in early adulthood among young people with and without a history of language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research, 60(6), 1635-1647. https://doi.org/10.1044/2017_JSLHR-L-16-0256 
- RADLD. (2020). Life as an adult with developmental language disorder (DLD) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgSgvvPX-EY 
- RADLD. (2019). The hidden disorder: Understanding developmental language disorder: Full film [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9b7Xp_0J0oU