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Nicola Botting, Ph.D.
City University of London

People with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) grow up into all sorts of different adults. We ran a large project following up with people with DLD (who had received specialist school support) from 7 to 24 years of age to learn about their lifestyles in early adulthood. Here are some of the things we found.

Do adults with DLD have friends and fit into the community well?

Yes! Nearly all of the adults in our study had at least one close friend (91%). At 24 years of age, about 50% of adults were in a romantic relationship, and only 18% said they had never had a partner.

However, we do know that people with DLD are shyer than their peers. They are more likely to go out on their own rather than with friends and may be less likely to choose to go to live sporting events, parties, or music concerts than other adults. This could be because those places tend to be noisy, making communication even more difficult.

About half of the young adults feel they belong in their communities – there is no difference between people with and without DLD. Having DLD made no difference to how likely you were to vote in national elections. The people with DLD in our study were less likely than their peers to be in trouble with the police. Not many 24-year-olds were doing any voluntary work, but people with DLD were twice as likely as other young adults to volunteer at least once a month.

What about working life?

Most people with DLD are doing some sort of work (66%), although there were more part-time workers in our study than we found in adults without language difficulties.

It may be important for adults with DLD to let their workplaces know that speaking and listening are harder for them than for most people. Most workplace managers know about autism and dyslexia, but only about 20% have heard about DLD. Workplaces can sometimes make adjustments for you if you have difficulties with language – for example, they might be able to help you to read documents, give you noise-canceling headphones while you work, or explain a meeting agenda before you attend.

For many people, work relies on being able to drive. Just under half the people in our study had a driver's license (43%), and this compares to about 75% of other adults in England. People told us that the written/theory test was the most difficult to pass. In the United Kingdom and the United States, you can get support for this part of your test. For example, you can have the questions read aloud to you. People with DLD who took a practical driving test passed just as often as other adults and were no more likely to get fines or tickets.

How about emotional health?

There is more risk of adults with DLD being anxious (19%) or getting depressed (15%) compared to people without language difficulties. Still, the majority of people in our study were not experiencing any emotional health issues. Over ¾ of adults with DLD told us they had good or very good physical health, and their ratings of life satisfaction were about the same as other people in their early twenties.
The risk of having a mental health problem does not seem to be clearly linked to how severe someone’s language disorder is. Instead, factors such as 'self efficacy' (believing you have control over your life and environment) and transitions between school, college, and work seem to affect people with DLD the most.

What do we know about middle-aged and older adults with DLD?

We don't know enough yet about people with DLD as they reach 40 and over. There seem to be some people who have DLD but who have never had a formal diagnosis. DLD often runs in families, and sometimes parents of a child diagnosed with DLD realize they probably have the same thing. At the moment, there aren't any norm-referenced assessments available to properly test for DLD in adults. We are working on this so that we can make sure everyone with DLD can get support for any difficulties they might have. However, that does not mean that you cannot get a diagnosis in the meantime. A speech-language pathologist, especially one with experience working with adolescents with DLD, can make a diagnosis after interviewing you, administering a variety of spoken and written language tasks, and reviewing your developmental and educational history.


Botting, N., Durkin, K., Toseeb, U., Pickles, A., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2016). Emotional health, support, and self-efficacy in young adults with a history of language impairment. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 34(4), 538-554.

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.

Conti-Ramsden, G., Durkin, K., Mok, P. L., Toseeb, U., & Botting, N. (2016). Health, employment and relationships: Correlates of personal wellbeing in young adults with and without a history of childhood language impairment. Social Science & Medicine, 160, 20-28.

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Durkin, K., Toseeb, U., Pickles, A., Botting, N., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2016). Learning to drive in young adults with language impairment. Transportation research part F: traffic psychology and behaviour, 42, 195-204.

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, and Hearing Research, 60(6), 1635-1647.

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