How do peer and emotional problem co-occur in children with DLD?

Conti-Ramsden, G., Mok, P., Durkin, K., Pickles, A., Toseeb, U., Botting, N. (2019) Do emotional difficulties and peer problems occur together from childhood to adolescence? The case of children with a history of developmental language disorder (DLD). Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 28, 993–1004.


Aim of the paper:


This study investigated whether emotional difficulties and peer problems develop together throughout childhood and adolescence. Children and adolescents with DLD are more likely to experience emotional difficulties and peer problems than typically developing peers. Although researchers have found some association between both areas, it remains unclear as to how they are linked across children’s development. The authors thought that both these areas would develop at similar rates and remain high during adolescence.


Additionally, the authors looked at whether expressive, receptive and pragmatic language skills might influence the development of emotional and peer difficulties. This is because language skills are related to emotional regulation and pro-sociality. Gender and parent’s history of mental health problems were also examined since they have been previously linked to emotional difficulties. The sample consisted of children with a history of DLD. They were contacted at ages 8, 11, 14 and 16.


What was found:


  • Five groups were identified. The first group, which was 26% of the sample, experienced emotional and peer difficulties throughout childhood and adolescence. The second group, consisting of 16% of the sample, started experiencing difficulties in both areas during adolescence. The third group, which was 11% of the sample, displayed low levels of both difficulties across development.

  • The fourth group consisting of 24% the sample, experienced emotional difficulties without peer problems and these difficulties were resolved by adolescence. The last group, which was 22% of the sample, had increased peer problems during adolescence but experienced no emotional difficulties.

  • Participants of the first group, who experienced difficulties in both areas across development had the lowest pragmatic language skills

  • The group experiencing only peer problems which increased during adolescence were found to display poor pro-sociality.


What does this mean?


The authors suggest that these findings show the variation in how DLD impacts and interacts with social and personal functioning. The findings suggest that emotional and peer difficulties might reinforce one another, demonstrated in over half the sample experiencing difficulties in both areas. Additionally, the findings imply that good peer relations may help reduce emotional difficulties. This could explain why some participants only experienced emotional difficulties during their childhood. Difficulties in both areas is also linked to poorer pragmatic language skills.


The different profiles experienced by children with DLD across development indicates that treatment of DLD should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis rather than making general assumptions about how emotional and peer domains might affect each other. Additionally, there should be equal attention towards those presenting with difficulties in either emotions or peer domains as these may not be as obvious. The authors recommend that interventions should consider this wide-ranging presentation of DLD amongst children and adolescents.


Where can I read this paper?


This paper is open access, which means everyone can read it.

Please click here to find the full paper.