Professional reports are loaded with terms that not everyone may know. Most of us make an effort to make reports as readable as possible for parents, but we may get carried away once in a while! Always ask the professional you are working with to explain terms with which you are not familiar .
The terms “delay,” “deficit,” and “disorder” have some important differences, but the common feature of all of them is that they indicate some degree of gap between a person’s current level of language functioning compared to other people his/her age.
A speech/language DELAY indicates a clear difference between the child’s skills and those of kids his/her age, preferably as determined by standardized tests. It is applicable when all other aspects of the child’s development are OK and the speech/language problem is “behind” to a small enough degree that it can be reasonably assumed it will “catch up” with therapy and extra help in school.
The term DEFICIT is used for problems that are more severe, with a gap large enough between the child’s skills and those of other children his/her age that it can be reasonably assumed it will always be there to some degree. A speech/language deficit can improve with therapy and school accommodations. This term is usually reserved for school-aged children and older who may or may not have been formally identified with other concerns.
The term DISORDER is a diagnosis that can be given only by a MD or a Psychologist (not a Speech-Language Pathologist. Go figure!). Speech-Language Pathologists can use diagnostic terms only if they have been first given by the MD or Psychologist. According to best practice standards, this should be given only when other skills have been confirmed by testing and there is a large difference between those skills and language skills (in professional terms, a “statistically significant” difference). Read the article “What is a language disorder?” for more information about this term.
If you have the slightest inkling that your child is having difficulty with his/her language development, make a referral right away. Knowing what’s going on and getting help for the problem will make a positive impact on your child’s development.