Language Delay vs Disorder: What Are Their Differences?

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Understanding the difference between language delay vs disorder helps parents ensure that their children are reaching developmental milestones.

As untrained professionals, parents often worry that their children are dealing with language disorders with delayed language.

With that said, there’s a significant difference between the two, one of which requires more in-depth treatment than the other.

What Is a Language Delay?

As its name suggests, a language delay simply means that a child develops language slower than others their age.

A language delay does not mean that a child has a specific issue with auditory comprehension or receiving language.

Instead, it’s an indicator that a child is developing slowly compared to milestones for their age.

As time goes on, you’ll begin to notice an improvement in language development and use in children with language delays.

Although they will learn slower, they will still acquire the fundamentals to form and understand speech over time.

If these fundamental skills do not develop, it’s time to consider that your child might have a language disorder.

What Is a Language Disorder?

Language disorders can be incredibly challenging for children and their families to live with because they can cause frustration.

Sometimes, these disorders manifest themselves as children not learning a language or having an impediment that prevents them from using language.

You’ll notice their language use is significantly disrupted, whether by atypical acquisition or speech impediments like slowed speech.

Working with a language disorder is something that requires the assistance of a trained professional.

Typically, parents seek counsel from their pediatrician, who can then refer them to a specialist, such as a speech-language pathologist.

Using professional techniques, children can begin to acquire the fundamentals for language development and use.

language delay vs disorder facts

When Does a Language Delay Become a Disorder?

One of the most challenging parts of having children with language delay is determining whether it’s a disorder or not.

You’ll want to talk to your pediatrician if you begin to notice any significant signs of language delay.

This process can ensure that your child gets the help they need to alleviate the frustration from a lack of language acquisition.

In most cases, when children don’t develop any language skills or have difficulty acquiring basic language skills, a delay could become a disorder.

There are a few critical markers to consider to know if it’s time to seek professional help.

Difficulty Understanding Language

Also known as receptive language, children who can understand language will often be able to:

  • Point to pictures when directed
  • Respond when their name is called
  • Follow basic instructions
  • Identify clothing and body parts

If your child isn’t showing any signs of understanding the language used when spoken to, it could point to a language disorder.

Difficulty Using Gestures

The majority of children use non-verbal speech to communicate during their early months of life.

You’ll notice they use gestures to communicate their intents and needs before learning the words for items and actions.

Not only are gestures themselves important to watch for, but their context as well.

Children should be using gestures appropriately in social and functional situations.

For example, if a parent says, “Wave bye-bye!” waving would be appropriate.

If no gestures are used, it could signify that the child hasn’t acquired receptive language.

Challenges with Expanding Vocabulary

As children age, they begin to develop a broad vocabulary consisting of things in their immediate environment.

For example, children with pets will often learn “Dog” or “Cat” before others.

They will also differentiate between “Dad” and “Mom” and even identify themselves.

With a regular regimen of learning new vocabulary, children should be learning several new words per week, even on their own.

If this isn’t the case, a language disorder could be a concern for parents to consider.

Inability to Understand Children’s Speech

Communication frustration is one of the most common issues encountered with a language disorder.

Children who cannot express their wants and needs via gestures or verbal communication often find themselves frustrated.

They should convey messages and tell stories in a relatively clear manner to which the listener can understand them.

It’s essential to pay close attention to how your child communicates with you as well as others.

If they show difficulty playing with other children with no communication, it could be time to seek help.

How Are Language Disorders Treated?

There are numerous ways that language disorders can be treated, and they usually take a multi-step approach.

Treatment can occur in clinical settings, but children will also require reinforcement at home, school, and the neighborhood.

By implementing speech therapy across all environments, their learning potential can drastically improve.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common treatment options used by professionals to alleviate language disorders.

Using a Speech-Language Pathologist

The most common method for dealing with language disorders is with the help of a speech-language pathologist (SLP).

SLPs are highly trained professionals who know age-appropriate ways for assisting children to acquire language and use communication.

By combining education with play, children will work in a comfortable environment to improve their language acquisition and use.

Speech-language pathologists often encourage language use through questions and answers and provide engaging activities for children.

It’s also common for them to use toys, objects, and pictures for language development.

Improving Parent Education

As mentioned, language development is a team effort, especially when it comes to raising a child.

You must have a good understanding of your child’s potential difficulties to assist with their development.

Three fantastic resources you should consider purchasing to begin your family’s language learning journey are:

1. Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence: Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing, and Communicating – Rhea Paul, Courtenay Norbury, Carolyn Gosse

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The Language Disorders from Infancy Through Adolescence covers language development and disorders across your child’s entire developmental period.

Parents can learn how to accurately assess language disorders as well as the top-recommended treatments for each.

This text looks at critical issues, communicative difficulties, and the basic concepts of vocabulary building using a developmental approach.

2. Children’s Speech: An Evidence-Based Approach to Assessment and Intervention – Sharynne McLeod and Elise Baker

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As another fabulous resource, the Children’s Speech: An Evidence-Based Approach to Assessment and Intervention is a great starting point for parents to gather a comprehensive understanding of speech sound disorders.

Written by student clinicians, you’ll have a complete overview of SSDs, an excellent reference for learning parents.

With that said, it takes a more scientific approach to study speech sound disorders with photographs, electro-palatograms, and more.

3. Introduction to Children with Language Disorders – Vicki A. Reed

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Do you need a guide to assist you with better understanding different speech disorders and their treatments?

Reed’s Introduction to Children with Language Disorders is a good read.

It reviews the most common speech disorders that SLPs encounter in their career.

It also provides in-depth reviews of assessment and intervention for conditions to help you better understand what your child is dealing with.

Language Delay vs Disorder

Understanding how language delay vs disorder differ is something that requires a lot of time and patience.

As a family, using the help of a speech-language pathologist is a phenomenal way to assist your child with overcoming these issues.

Also, by reviewing top-recommended guides, you can better understand the challenges that need to be addressed for proper language acquisition and use.

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