How is language related to social, emotional and behavioural difficulties in children with DLD?

Goh, S. K. Y., Griffiths, S., Norbury, C. F., & the SCALES Team. (2021). Sources of Variability in the Prospective Relation of Language to Social, Emotional and Behavior Problem Symptoms: Implications for Developmental Language Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 130(6), 676-689. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000691


Aim of the paper:


Children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) tend to have more social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, but the reason for this is unclear. Some studies have looked at whether language ability can explain these difficulties. However, these have mostly studied children under the age of five, whose language difficulties have therefore not persisted for a long time. This study examined the relationship between language ability and social, emotional and behavioural difficulties in primary school children (aged 4-9 years) with and without DLD. They looked at both the children’s past and current language ability and difficulties. The study also investigated the effects of non-verbal intelligence, socioeconomic disadvantage and sex on the relationship between language and social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.


What was found:


  • Language ability for those who met the criteria for DLD was strongly associated with more conduct, peer and prosocial problems, and emotional problems in boys.

  • The reverse was found for girls – language for those with typical language ability (but not low language ability) was related to emotional problems.

  • However, most children were still below the threshold for social, emotional and behavioural concern.

  • Amongst all those with typical language ability, there was no significant association between language and social, emotional and behavioural problems.

  • There was no significant effect of non-verbal intelligence and socioeconomic disadvantage on the relationship between language and social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.


What does this mean?


The findings indicate that children with DLD (with low language ability) are more at risk of social, emotional and behavioural problems than typically developing children. However, many do not meet the threshold for clinical concern. Sex may influence this relationship; boys with DLD may be more likely to have emotional problems than girls with DLD. These findings support past research that suggests children with DLD may not develop the oral language skills that are necessary for more positive social, emotional and behavioural development. The findings suggest that the mental health needs of children with DLD should be monitored, and for language development to be supported to reduce social, emotional and behavioural difficulties


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.