What are the Differences Between Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Neurodevelopmental conditions is a name doctors and scientists give to differences from the expected brain and behaviour development during childhood.  There are many ways that brain development can be different. One of the most well known neurodevelopmental conditions is autism, which has some similarities with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), but also some important differences.

Autism is a broad term that includes a wide variety of challenges, but people with this neurodevelopmental condition all share the following two traits:

Challenges with Social Communication can range from being unable to speak and/or understand language, to difficulty reading body language and facial expressions and understanding what others are thinking and feeling.

Repetitive Behaviours and Restricted Interests can range from self-harm such as banging one’s head or biting one’s hands to less severe behaviours like hand flapping or rocking back and forth.  Restricted interests in autism often look like obsessions or fixations on certain kinds of objects or themes. It can be difficult for individuals to change from one activity to another.

DLD Awareness Day 18 October 2019

Individuals with DLD, like individuals with autism, struggle with social communication. In DLD, these challenges relate mostly to expressing one’s thoughts and comprehending what others are saying, while in autism the problems tend to go beyond just language and extend to difficulty understanding the meaning behind a person’s facial expression or body language.

Patterns of restricted interests and repetitive behaviours, as described above, are specific to autism and are not a characteristic of DLD.

​Children with autism often have other serious medical conditions, such as seizures, digestive system problems, or sleep disorders.  These additional medical problems make it more likely for children with ASD to see a medical provider, which in turn makes diagnosis more likely.  In contrast, children with DLD might not have any other obvious medical conditions that would make diagnosis by a professional more likely, which is part of the reason that DLD can often go unrecognised.​

​Finally, although autism receives more attention in the public consciousness, DLD is far more common than autism.  The latest studies show that almost 2% of children have autism, while more than three times as many (about 7%) have DLD.​

Additional resources from around the world, if your country is not listed and you are aware of an organisation that should be included, then please bring it to our attention and we will add it.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Speech-Language & Audiology Canada (SAC) | Orthophonie et Audiologie Canada (OAC)

Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists

New Zealand Speech-language Therapists’ Association

Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists

Speech Pathology Australia

The St. John Aphasia Support Group

American Academy of Private Practice in Speech Pathology and Audiology

Federazione Logopedisti Italiani

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