Sunday, 8 August 2010

Exploring the link between language problems and behaviour

 A summary of the link between language problems and emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) reported on by the Centre for Integrated Healthcare Research, has shown:
  • Approximately three quarters of children with identified emotional and behavioural difficulties have significant language deficits.
  • Approximately half of those with language disorders have identifiable emotional and behavioural difficulties.
  • The prevalence of language deficits in children who exhibit anti-social behaviours is ten times higher than in the general population.
  • Pure language deficits, especially those associated with comprehension difficulties, are at greatest risk.
  • Thus EBD children with unsuspected receptive disorders were rated the most delinquent, the most depressed (by parents) and aggressive (by teachers) and had more severe challenging behaviour.
  • Children with expressive language disorders were rated as more socially withdrawn and anxious.
  • The strength of the association between language difficulties and antisocial behaviour increases with age.
  • Difficulties in initiating and maintaining interpersonal relationships is a key mediating variable between language disorders and antisocial behaviours.
  • "Language disorders appear to have a devastating effect on interpersonal relationships (ie peer, family, companion) throughout the lifespan." (Benner, 2002)
I carried out a study in 2005 which showed a definite link between auditory memory difficulties and behaviour problems. It's not just a case of 'not understanding', a language problem affects all aspects of a child's life.

Just recently I was asked to see a 15year old boy with a terrible history of violence. He was in residential care but had committed a string of offences. When I assessed him it became apparent that he had such poor language skills that he didn't really understand most of what was being said to him. He was constantly seeking a familiar response and had worked out that if you punch someone the response is always consistent! He understood the outcome of that exchange! He was bright and chatty on the surface which disguised his difficulties. He had a set of well rehearsed stories to impress the listener on a superficial level (some of which I recognised as scenes from films). Yet his auditory memory was just 2 items which means that he can follow only sentences with 2 pieces of information (like a typical 2 year old!).

There's definitely a proven link which is why all children with behaviour difficulties could do with a speech, language and communication assessment by a suitably experienced Therapist. There will be more about the role of SLT in young offenders in a later blog post.
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