Play, Prosocial behaviours and DLD

Toseeb, U., Gibson, J. L., Newbury, D. F., Orlik, W., Durkin, K., Pickles, A., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2020). Play and prosociality are associated with fewer externalizing problems in children with developmental language disorder: The role of early language and communication environment. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 55(4), 583-602

​This paper has been highlighted by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) as an Evidence Alert. Please click here to read the NIHR Alert.

Aim of the paper:

This study looks at how the early language and communication environment between 1-2 years old predicts mental health problems during middle childhood (at age 11 years) for children with and without DLD. The early language and communication environment is the amount of different parent-child activities and resources in the child’s environment that can help improve language and communication skills during early childhood.

In addition, the researchers included measurements for language and social skills during childhood (at age 7-9 years) to understand whether language ability and social development influence the ‘pathway’ from the early language and communication environment to mental health problems suggested above.

What was found:

  • In general, children with DLD have a lower level of social skills and more mental health problems compared to children without DLD.

  • The pathway from the early language and communication environment to mental health problems are similar for children with or without DLD.

  • For both groups, a more positive early language and communication environment was associated with higher level of social skills (i.e. prosociality and play competency), which in turn is associated with fewer externalizing problems (mental health problems that are acted out, for example, conduct problems and hyperactivity) during middle childhood.

What does this mean?

This study suggests that children with DLD generally have more problems in social play and are less prosocial. However, children with DLD with higher level of social play and prosociality are less likely to have externalising problems. Play and prosocial ability can be encouraged in early childhood with parent-child activities and an enhanced language and communication environment. Moreover, encouraging play and prosocial skills at any age may help children with DLD, particularly in reducing their likelihood of later externalising problems.

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.