Trajectories of peer relations in children with DLD

Mok, P. L. H., Pickles, A., Durkin, K., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2014). Longitudinal trajectories of peer relations in children with specific language impairment. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55(5), 516–527.

Aim of this paper:

Children with specific language impairment (SLI; also known as Developmental Language Disorder), present difficulties in peer relations. In order to accomplish successful peer relations, communication is important. Yet, since children with SLI present difficulties in communication, research points to the presence of peer problems as well. This is due to difficulties in expression and/or comprehension of language that makes communicating with peers challenging. This paper aimed to investigate the longitudinal trajectories of peers relations over 9-year period in a sample of 171 children with a history of SLI. By analyzing developmental trajectories, the authors were able to understand the different pathways that are followed by the different groups.

What was found:

  • Four developmental trajectories of peer relations in children with a history of SLI were identified

  • Two-thirds of children showed childhood-onset persistent or adolescent-onset problems. A third showed low-level/no or childhood-limited peer problems.

  • For the 39% of children with childhood-onset persistent problems, the odds of showing pragmatic language difficulties at 7 years was 2.5 times higher than for those with low/no peer problems.

  • Prosocial behaviour, the variable most strongly associated with trajectory group membership, may act as a protective factor.

  • Increased emotional symptoms were associated with poor trajectories of peer relations.

What does this mean?

On the one hand, these findings provide positive messages that not all children with SLI encounter peer difficulties. Results also show that difficulties ameliorate across time in some children. In the study’s sample, 1/3 of children were in the low/no problems group or had childhood-limited difficulties (i.e. difficulties did not persist to adolescence). On the other hand, most children had persistent, or adolescent-onset difficulties in peer relations from childhood and adolescence. They represented 2/3 of children with a history of SLI. Prosociality (being kind and empathetic to others) is suggested to protect children from peer problems, and so could be an area for intervention.

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