Delayed vs. Disordered Language

We asked Dr. Stephen Camarata to explain the difference between a language delay and a language disorder. Here is his reply:

"In general, a delay means that the child is behind, but will, without treatment, normalize (catch up). So for example, assume two children are not walking at 18 months of age. Child 1 has no medical condition to prevent walking and, by 20 months of age is tearing around just fine making his mother long for the good old days when he was less mobile. Child 1 would be said to have "delayed walking." Child 2 has a form of ataxia, which affects balance and also walks at 20 months, but is unsteady and requires assistance from a physical therapist to learn how to avoid falling. Child 2 has would have 'disordered walking.'

If only life were so simple! What if the parents of Child 1 panicked, received a diagnosis of Sensory Integration deficit and received brushing as a 'treatment.' The actual status of walking would be unaffected by the 'diagnosis' and the 'treatment,' but the parents and clinicians may mistakenly believe that the child was 'walking disordered' rather than delayed and may incorrectly believe that sensory integration deficit was a valid diagnosis and that brushing somehow relates to facilitating walking. Substitute the word 'talking' for 'walking' and you can see what sometimes happens with our late-talking children. There is nothing more certain than 'curing' children who would normalize anyway, as long as the 'treatment' doesn't harm the child!

So, language delay and phonological delay are simply variations on the developmental timing of the acquisition of these abilities. Language Disorder and Phonological Disorder are DSM-IV diagnostic categories used to describe disruptions in the acquisition of language (or pronunciation for phonology) that are persistent beyond typical development and that require some intervention support to develop."

- Dr. Stephen Camarata