Bob Reitemeier

“If you find communication difficult, you find life difficult” – Bob Reitemeier on DLD Awareness Day

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) Awareness Day was on Friday 19th October. In the run-up to this important occasion, we caught up with I CAN CEO Bob Reitemeier. We spoke about the condition, how we generate more awareness and the day itself.


What is THE main issue for children living with DLD?

A child with DLD will often speak in a muddled way, will have difficulties putting sentences together correctly, will not understand long instructions and will have a difficult time in their educational setting.

Beyond this, these are the same children who might not understand the rules of the games they play in the playground. They can get isolated socially as well as academically.

What we say at I CAN is that: if you find communication difficult, you find life difficult” so we need to reach out to these kids.

How can we tackle DLD effectively?

One of the issues is when and how to diagnose a child. Because it is a disorder, it’s a long-term, persistent communication difficulty that the child won’t grow out of on their own. They require specialist support.

It’s very important to have accurate diagnoses for children and that is why the experts in the field of speech, language and communication advise the sector to avoid diagnosis at too early an age in the child’s life – for example before the age of five.  However, that does not mean that children who demonstrate communication difficulties before the age of five should not receive support – they should!  There are many programmes, such as the I CAN Talk Boost series, that can provide early and important support. But, if a child is eventually diagnosed to have DLD, they will require specialist help.

One of the complications is that a child’s language development, from birth through to age five can vary widely. By the time children reach primary school, we can witness very large language gaps – indeed by the age of three, a child in the lowest income group can be on average 17 months behind a child in the highest income group.  If this gap is not addressed, then it simply grows, year on year.

Why do you think Developmental Language Day is so important?

It’s a great idea. To raise awareness for any critical social issue, you need ‘moments’ where everyone is brought together to have a concerted push to achieve your objective. DLD Day is a very good example of that.

We help children with DLD in both our special schools at Meath and Dawn House. How do the schools support those children?

7.6% of children in the UK have DLD, that’s one million children. It’s an enormous number.

The children and young people at our two schools often have the most severe and complex DLD – they unquestionably require specialist help, which is what we provide through a combination of speech and language therapy, specialist teaching, occupational therapy and educational psychology.

However, by definition, because there are one million children with DLD, the majority will be in mainstream schools. The challenge for us is to help mainstream schools by providing the support they need to identify these children, provide a communication rich environment, and help them identify the right specialist support at the right time.

To address this, at I CAN we are looking at funding opportunities to develop a pilot training programme whereby we would work with the school’s senior leadership team and the teachers to support these children.

What more can practitioners do to elevate DLD as an issue in the public sphere?

For everyone working with children, in whatever capacity, they would benefit from a basic level of understanding on the importance of communication and how to identify children who have communication difficulties.

The reality is that across the children’s workforce this knowledge-base is nowhere near the level we need it to be to see a significant increase in the support to children with communication difficulties.  Therefore, we need to train a lot more people to get there.  

We also need to help the children’s workforce know where to turn to when the child requires specialist support.  Many of these children have normal cognitive ability – their struggle lies in their ability to communicate – to understand language used by others and to use language themselves.

Because these children are intelligent, they learn to cope, to get by in primary school without drawing too much attention to themselves.  However, by the time they arrive at secondary school, where they are confronted with a much more advanced curriculum using more complex language and instruction, they can find themselves overwhelmed.  Without support, we are failing these children. We need to work together, across the charity, public and private sectors to highlight the plight of these children and young people and demand more support for their communication needs.


If your child or a child in your care has DLD and you would like help and support, check out our TalkingPoint website for more information.

If you’d like to speak to someone, contact our Enquiry Line to talk to one of our dedicated Speech and Language Therapists on 020 7843 2544 or email enquiries@ican.org.uk

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