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Karla McGregor, Ph.D.
Boys Town National Research Hospital

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is a “neurodevelopmental disorder.”

Other neurodevelopmental disorders are:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder
  • Tic Disorders like Tourette’s Disorder
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Specific Learning Disorder
  • Child-onset Fluency Disorder (Stuttering)
  • Speech Sound Disorder

Although neurodevelopmental disorders are usually diagnosed during childhood, they can last into adulthood. In milder cases, sometimes the problem is not diagnosed until adulthood, even though it was always present.

What Causes Neurodevelopmental Disorders?

Neurodevelopmental disorders result when complex genetic and environmental factors come together to change brain development. In some cases, we know what those genetic and environmental factors are. In many cases, we do not. Neurodevelopmental disorders tend to run in families. The father might have a learning disability and his son might have ADHD. A brother might have DLD and his sister might have autism. This suggests that some neurodevelopmental disorders have common causes. No one has identified the exact causes of the brain dysfunctions that lead to DLD, although researchers are working on this question. Of course, everyone’s brain is different from everyone else’s brain. For this reason, it is important to consider how much the problem interferes with social, academic, or occupational success before diagnosing DLD.

Some important take-away messages:

  • People with DLD are not lazy; they have trouble using or understanding language because their brains work differently.
  • The word “developmental” does NOT mean that people will outgrow the problem as they develop from children to adults. It DOES mean that the problem emerges early in development.
  • DLD and other neurodevelopmental disorders will change with development because some areas will improve while new challenges make other weak areas apparent.
  • People with DLD often have a family history of other neurodevelopmental disorders.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.