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Language, DLD prevalence and expository discourse in young offenders

Hopkins, T., Clegg, J., & Stackhouse, J. (2018). Examining the association between language, expository discourse and offending behaviour: an investigation of direction, strength and independence. International journal of language & communication disorders, 53(1), 113–129.

Aim of the paper:

Past research has found higher rates of Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) in youth offending populations. Expository discourse is communication used to explain or describe a particular topic. It is crucial to engage effectively in the Youth Justice System, for example in expressing understanding of legal procedures and terminology specific to youth offending services. However, expressing information using expository discourse requires complex language which individuals with DLD often struggle with. This paper compared the language, including expository discourse, abilities of young offenders and non-offenders. It also examined whether social disadvantage, education attendance and non-verbal IQ influence the association between language and youth offending behaviour. The study included 52 young offenders who were on court orders, and 25 non-offenders.

What was found:

  • 81% of the young offenders in this study met the criteria for DLD.

  • All young offenders scored below the expository discourse norm for their age. 80% scored at least one standard deviation below the score norm for a 14-year-old.

  • There was no significant difference between male and female youth offenders on any of the measures of language.

  • The study found an association between language and offending behaviour, regardless of social disadvantage, educational attendance and non-verbal IQ.

  • None of the youth offending group had ever received any Speech and Language Therapy.

What does this mean?

The findings support past research that there is a high incidence of DLD in youth offending populations. The lower expository discourse scores suggest that young offenders find it difficult to communicate complex information. This means that young offenders may struggle with the expository discourse abilities required to effectively engage with the Youth Justice System. Considering the findings, Speech and Language Therapy should be implemented in youth offending services to identify those with DLD and language difficulties, and to help them with expository discourse.

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.


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