Background: Early and effective treatment for children with developmental
language disorder (DLD) is important. Although a growing body of research
shows the effects of interventions at the group level, clinicians observe large
individual differences in language growth, and differences in outcomes across
language domains. A systematic understanding of how child characteristics
contribute to changes in language skills is still lacking.
Aims: To assess changes in the language domains: expressive morphosyntax;
receptive and expressive vocabulary; and comprehension, in children in special
needs education for DLD. To explore if differences in language gains between
children are related to child characteristics: language profile; severity of the
disorder; being raised mono- or multilingually; and cognitive ability.
Methods & Procedures: We extracted data from school records of 154 children
(4–6 years old) in special needs education offering a language and
communication-stimulating educational environment, including speech and
language therapy. Changes in language were measured by comparing the scores
on standardized language tests at the beginning and the end of a school year.
Next, we related language change to language profile (receptive–expressive versus
expressive-only disorders), severity (initial scores), growing up mono- and
multilingually, and children’s reported non-verbal IQ scores.
Outcomes&Results: Overall, the children showed significant improvements in
expressive morphosyntax, expressive vocabulary and language comprehension.
Baseline scores and gains were lowest for expressive morphosyntax. Differences
in language gains between children with receptive–expressive disorders and
expressive-only disorders were not significant. There was more improvement in
children with lower initial scores. There were no differences between mono- and
multilingual children, except for expressive vocabulary. There was no evidence
of a relation between non-verbal IQ scores and language growth.
Conclusions & Implications: Children with DLD in special needs education
showed gains in language performance during one school year. There was, however,
little change in morphosyntactic scores, which supports previous studies
concluding that poor morphosyntax is a persistent characteristic of DLD. Our
results indicate that it is important to include all children with DLD in intervention:
children with receptive–expressive and expressive disorders; monoand
multilingual children, and children with high, average and low non-verbal
IQ scores. We did not find negative relations between these child factors and
changes in language skills.