Developmental Language Disorder and ADHD

Understanding Developmental Language Disorder and ADHD

Did you know that children and adolescents with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) can often have attention deficits?

Research has indicated that if a child has DLD, they are three times more likely to have co-existing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In addition to this, children and adolescents with DLD often demonstrate attention deficits that are not significant enough to reach the level warranting an ADHD diagnosis. Still, they impact the way a child learns in the classroom, engages in homework, or even progresses in speech pathology intervention.

To help children with DLD and ADHD, we can make some simple changes to the way we interact with them, including at home, in therapy and in the classroom. Read on to develop your understanding of Developmental Language Disorder and ADHD, and discover tips to support children and adolescents with sustained attention difficulties.

What is Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)?

Developmental Language Disorder or DLD is characterised by persistent language difficulties (talking and/or writing) that cannot be explained by another condition, which exists despite adequate language-learning experiences.

How Do You Know if Your Child Might Have DLD?

Your child may not follow multistep directions, understanding questions you are asking or may have difficulty with reading comprehension. They might also have trouble saying or writing complex sentences containing appropriate grammar, finding words to express themselves, struggling to tell you stories about their day in a logical sequence, and will often have difficulty with literacy.

If your child demonstrates any signs of DLD, it is vitally important that they see a Speech Pathologist for assessment.

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is characterised by inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity, which is inappropriate for the child or adolescent’s developmental level and significantly impairs their social and/or school functionality.

It is often easy to identify children with hyperactivity-impulsivity. They are usually the ones who can’t sit still, they may climb and are seemingly always ‘on the go’. They might be moving around the room when they should be seated or find it difficult to wait their turn in games or conversations.

However, it can be much more challenging to identify a child or adolescent’s attention deficit. Despite the name, the attention deficit in ADHD is not a deficit of attention at all. It is an inability to control their attention or sustain their attention over time and the ability to resist distractions that vie for their attention.

How Do You Know if Your Child Might Have ADHD?

Your child may seem like they are not listening when spoken to directly, they may appear to be easily distracted and require frequent re-direction. They might have difficulty organising tasks and activities, appear to daydream, or rush through schoolwork and make seemingly careless mistakes. All children may do these from time to time. However, in children with ADHD, these difficulties persist way past an appropriate developmental level and significantly impact their day-to-day life.

It is vitally important that if your child or adolescent demonstrates inattention, they are referred to a Paediatrician for assessment.

Understanding DLD and Inattention

Research has found that children with DLD are more likely to have ADHD and vice versa. However, a large-scale analysis of research in 2011 found that children with DLD often demonstrate difficulties with sustained attention, which are not significant enough to reach the level warranting an ADHD diagnosis, but do impact the way a child learns in the classroom. They found that children may appear inattentive due to frustration, lack of interest in the material, limited ability to engage in the task or purely through avoidance. This contrasts with a child with ADHD, who has a neurodevelopmental disorder, which affects their ability to sustained attention.

How Can I Support My Child with Sustained Attention Difficulties?

Luckily, there are some simple ways we can encourage children and adolescents with sustained attention difficulties to engage with and participate in daily activities. The following five tips are effective for children with DLD, ADHD, or a combination of both.

1. Always gain a child or adolescents’ focussed attention before giving instructions.
By saying the child’s name and giving them a gentle touch on the shoulder before giving them instructions, they can focus on what you say or are teaching them.

2. Decrease distractions as much as possible.
If you would like to encourage conversation around the dinner table, make sure the TV is off. In the classroom, ensure the learning space is visually clear and uncluttered. Position the child at the front of the class, right in front of the teacher.

3. Give simple directions and instructions.
Give the child 1-2 step instructions at a time. Children with ADHD and DLD often have difficulty with their working memory. Working memory is like a little list in your mind that holds onto a small amount of information for us to act on. A child with ADHD or DLD has a shorter list capacity and may forget some of the instructions we give them. So repeating, rephrasing and ‘chunking’ information and instructions in to small pieces at a time can help with a child’s understanding and ability to act on what you are saying.

4. Use re-direction positively.
When you notice your child getting off task, remind them kindly to re-engage. If they are struggling to get ready for school in the morning and are getting off track, you could say; “You have brushed your teeth! Great job. What is your next job?” In the classroom, if the child is not sustaining attention to a worksheet, encourage them to continue by saying; “Wow! You have done 3 questions. Well done. Let’s do another one.”

5. Use gestures and visuals as much as possible.
Consistently provide your child with visuals to support them at home and at school. This might be a checklist to help them keep on track when getting ready in the morning, number lines in maths, scaffolds for different text types or a schedule of their daily activities. Visuals have repeatedly been shown to support children and adolescents with DLD and ADHD at home and in the classroom setting.

If your child or adolescent is showing difficulties with their language or attention skills, an assessment by a speech pathologist is vital. At A Growing Understanding, we love working with children and adolescents, their families, and educators to support them thrive and achieve their goals. Talk with one of our friendly Client Experience Officers to book an assessment.

If you have any concerns with your child’s attention, speak with your GP to investigate whether a paediatrician referral is warranted.

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