DLD and externalising problems

Van den Bedem, N. P., Dockrell, J. E., van Alphen, P. M., & Rieffe, C. (2020). Emotional competence mediates the relationship between communication problems and reactive externalizing problems in children with and without developmental language disorder: A longitudinal study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(16), 6008. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17166008


What was the aim?


Children with DLD struggle to communicate thoughts and understand others. This struggle can cause frustration resulting in externalising behaviours, such as reactive and proactive aggression and oppositional deviant disorder. Additionally, DLD can lead to emotion recognition and anger dysregulation problems. These problems can also cause externalising behaviours. This study examined the relationships between DLD and externalising problems. 62 children with DLD and 132 children without DLD between ages 9 and 16 were studied over 18 months.

  • Reactive aggression is aggressive behaviour that is caused by anger or provocation

  • Proactive aggression is goal-directed aggressive behaviour, for example manipulating someone for personal gain.

  • Anger dysregulation is the poor ability to handle anger.

  • Emotion competence is a good ability to recognise emotions in yourself and others and regulate and communicate about emotions.


What was found?


  • Reactive and proactive aggression and anger dysregulation were similar for both groups and declined with age. Anger dysregulation was linked more to oppositional deviant disorder symptoms and reactive aggression in children with DLD.

  • Oppositional deviant disorder symptoms and emotional competence problems were higher in children with DLD. Both groups improved with age.

  • Increasing levels of emotional competence was linked to a decline in oppositional deviant disorder, but not aggression, for both groups.

  • Oppositional deviant disorder was linked to worse pragmatic and emotion communication problems for both groups. Children with DLD had greater pragmatic and emotion communication issues.


What does it mean?


Children with and without DLD show equal levels of reactive and proactive aggression. But children with DLD have more non-aggressive externalising behaviours, such as oppositional deviant disorder symptoms. Over time the level of oppositional deviant disorder symptoms decreases for both groups as emotional competence increases. The results show that children with more severe language issues, such as higher levels of pragmatic communication issues, experience more problems in emotional competence. This in turn explains greater oppositional deviant disorder symptoms. Overall, the results highlight how children who struggle to express their emotions are more likely to use aggression to obtain goals. However, this struggle is greater in children with DLD. This study highlights the need for interventions to help children recognise and communicate emotion in social interactions.


Where can I read this paper?


This paper is open access meaning everyone can read it.

Please click here to find the full paper.