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Is it adolescence or a language developmental disorder?


September 6, 2022 Limitations and Neurodiversity


Par Geneviève Gauthier

Coordinator of Adult Services

Did you know: Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), formerly known as dysphasia or primary language disorder, was adopted as the new term in 2017.

Adolescence is a crucial time in your child's life during which many changes take place. Add to that Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). You may have lots of questions and some parents may feel overwhelmed. It can be difficult to know if your teen's behaviors are caused by adolescence or by DLD.

Distinguishing between adolescent behaviours and DLD

As a start, you can ask yourself whether you recognize your teen in any of these situations:

  • Appears unmotivated or lazy
  • Refuses to do tasks
  • Performs tasks less well or in a rude manner
  • Isolates themselves, staying home most of the time
  • Plays video games a lot
  • Refuses to participate in certain activities
  • Refuses to get out of bed in the morning
  • Refuses to do homework, is demotivated at school

Video games offer a positive space for these young people, within balanced limits. It is a way to learn, and to develop logic and language. When the game is played in groups, socialization is also possible.

Many teenagers exhibit these behaviors from time to time. However, it is important to avoid the pitfall of minimizing the impact of DLD on daily life. It can be difficult to distinguish between what belongs to adolescence and what belongs to DLD. However, by keeping these symptoms in mind, you can put things in perspective.

For example, if your teenager refuses to get up in the morning. Be aware that DLD leads to severe fatigue. It may not be a lack of motivation, but rather a need for rest. Does your child get breaks? Can they do fewer activities? Ones that don't involve language?

As your youngster gets older, they become aware that they have a gap with their peers. This can affect their motivation. Their disability creates a real challenge on a daily basis. The transition to high school is often a source of anxiety. The pace increases and so do the expectations. Resources may be less available. Sometimes, as the child develops his vocabulary or speaks at the same pace as the adult, his difficulties can be forgotten. However, TDL is present throughout his life.

Are they lazy or do they have a different rhythm?

Is your teen not doing their chores or responsibilities? Before thinking about laziness, ask yourself if DLD might be the obstacle. If a task seems too complex, they may want to avoid it to avoid another failure. If the task is misunderstood or insufficiently explained, there may be a lack of understanding, and consequently the task may be abandoned.

Also, take a moment to analyze your approach. Often, when our children are younger, we try to compensate for their difficulties. We are more accommodating. As they get older, our expectations increase. However, the disability persists. Be sure to provide tools and strategies that set your child up for success. These must be continually reviewed and adapted according to their new reality and environment. It is still important to maintain rules and expectations that are realistic for the child's abilities, which is also true for children without disabilities.

Sometimes, as the child develops his vocabulary or speaks at the same pace as the adult, his difficulties can be forgotten. However, developmental languague disorder is present throughout his life.

8 ways to support a teenager with DLD

  1. Offer as much visual information as possible. Their primary strength is observation. If they can see, touch, observe, you offer an even more interesting entry point than just talking.
  2. Offer breaks. Allow them quiet moments, free of expectations and language implications.
  3. Break down tasks or expectations. Your child will feel less like the load is too great for their abilities. They will be able to better understand and complete the task.
  4. Make homework time more fun. Making learning fun supports motivation.
  5. Make sure they understand your expectations. Ask what they understood and help fill in any blanks.
  6. Repeat! They don't forget or fail to understand on purpose. The more you repeat, the more chance you give them to absorb the information. Remember, it may be that the information is grasped one day and not the next. This is simply because the brain is making room for the new information. Hence the importance of repeating!
  7. Use tools to help them keep track of time: clock, hourglass, timer. This will allow them to complete the action in the time requested and especially to help them SEE the time remaining to finish the task.
  8. Use visual reminders: notebook, telephone, agenda, schedule, list of tasks, list of materials, etc. These are very helpful references for them.

It is quite possible that adolescence will have an impact on your teen's daily life. However, it is important to recognize that their DLD may also accentuate certain behaviours, and remember this in your approach. Take a moment to review the tools. You can also use this time to talk with your teen. Sometimes they realize their challenges, but don't know how to help reduce them.

Reference (in French)

Association Dysphasie +